Public Weighs In On South Bend Casino

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs' public meeting attracted more than 200 people wishing to express their opinion about a proposed $480 million casino and tribal village in South Bend, Indiana. The project would create 2,000 permanent jobs and 1,400 construction jobs, and bring in $620.4 million in annual revenue.

More than 200 people attended the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs’ recent public meeting regarding the draft environmental impact statement for the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians’ proposed 0 million casino and tribal village in South Bend, Indiana. According to the environmental study the project could create up to 2,000 permanent casino and hotel jobs and 1,400 construction jobs, and generate an estimated 0.4 million in annual revenue. A portion of that revenue would be shared with the city of South Bend and St. Joseph County.

According to the environmental impact statement , the facility would have little effect on the environment, except for traffic congestion. The study is part of the tribe’s application to have 166 acres at Prairie Avenue and the U.S. 20 bypass taken into federal trust.

Opponents of the project issued warnings about crime, poverty and addiction. Jake Teshka of Citizens for a Better Michiana said, “The gaming industry as a whole is a predatory one. It’s estimated that anywhere from 35 percent to 55 percent of gaming industry revenues come from problem gamblers,” leading to bankruptcy, divorce, suicide and crime he added.

At one dramatic moment, Granger resident Kelly Havens said anyone who supports the casino is an “ignorant dreamer,” drawing loud boos from the crowd. Scott Doig of the Midwest Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Minnesota restored order and said, “I would ask please that we show respect for everybody providing comments.”

Citing the potential economic benefits of the project, supporters included county Commissioners Andy Kostielney and Dave Thomas, former South Bend Police Chief Chuck Hurley and several tribe members. Two local pastors also supported the project. Former Deputy Mayor Mark Neal said, “When we look at what the band has done so far with their developments, at what they’re doing with education, health care and their support for so many community initiatives, those are tremendous partners to have in our community.”

Former South Bend Police Chief Chuck Hurley stated he had has spoken with officers at police departments with casinos in their communities. “I’ve learned the Pokagon’s developments have not caused any noticeable concerns or demands for any neighboring public safety departments,” he said.

Earlier, the South Bend Common Council voted 7-0 to pass a non-binding resolution supporting the project. Councilman Oliver Davis said, “It’s not just the jobs that they’re talking about. When you build different kinds of businesses like they’re looking at building it’s going to stimulate growth around.”

Several citizens in attendance were not happy about the vote, including Teshka. He said, “This resolution has seemed rushed. I think we need to have a broader public discussion, not just about South Bend, but it’s going to impact our surrounding communities, our surrounding counties.” He added, “Living within 10 miles of a casino doubles your risk of becoming a problem gambler and so there are just so many, so many reasons why we’re opposed to this casino. I might have to think about moving my family elsewhere. I think that’s something a lot of folks are weighing on their minds. If something like this comes in what could be the damaging effects.”

Tribal Council Chairman John P. Warren said, “The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians greatly appreciates the efforts of Councilman Oliver Davis and the South Bend Common Council in their pledge of support for our proposed Tribal Village in South Bend. South Bend always held a certain place in everyone’s heart in the tribe. We’re looking forward to the Bureau of Indian Affairs going into the final stages in this process, and we’re also looking forward to working with the community, the city, the city council as we move forward. It’s a real good time for the community and the Pokagon Band.”

About 600 members of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians live in northern Indiana. The entire land-trust process could take another 18 months or more to complete, Doig said. The Pokagon Band currently operates casinos in New Buffalo and Dowagiac under the Four Winds banner. It also has a tribal village in Hartford, Mich.