The positive economic impact of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians spans well beyond its tribal citizens and into the surrounding geographical area of southwest Michigan and northern Indiana.
Recent community development initiatives have included diversifying its industry opportunities, as well as further development of ancestral lands in South Bend, Indiana. In 2012, the tribe contributed nearly $6.7 million in local revenue sharing under its Class III gaming compact with the state of Michigan. Notably, in April 2013, the tribe opened Four Winds Dowagiac, the second satellite gaming facility to its parent casino located in New Buffalo, Michigan.
Four Winds New Buffalo
In August 2007, the tribe’s first casino property opened its doors to the public. The casino was the first in southwest Michigan, an area which was traditionally serviced by the commercial riverboat gaming facilities located in northern Indiana and Illinois.
Situated on a 675-acre parcel of land just off of Interstate 94 near the Indiana border and less than an hour drive from downtown Chicago, the New Buffalo property features a spanning main entrance complete with vaulted ceilings of a rotunda complete with stone fireplaces on each side. The 130,000-square-foot gaming floor is home to over 60 table games and 3,000 slot machines, and is directly connected to 415 hotel rooms and suites.
Last year’s completion of Phase II included a 1,500-seat, multi-use event center, a new 250-room hotel tower and the Hard Rock Cafe Four Winds. The property currently features four different destination restaurants, ranging from a world-class steakhouse to a 500-seat buffet.
Conveniently located, the 12,000-square-foot Hard Rock Cafe Four Winds is able to seat more than 275 guests while spanning two floors and displaying more than 150 pieces of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia from Hard Rock’s collection.
“Hard Rock Cafe Four Winds is an ideal place to dine and to take in great live music while enjoying the unique rock ‘n’ roll experience that only the Hard Rock can provide,” says Matt Harkness, chief operating officer of Four Winds Casinos.
Satellite Gaming Properties
Under its amended tribal-state gaming compact with Michigan, the tribe negotiated the opportunity for two additional Class III gaming facilities within southwest Michigan. The first of the tribe’s satellite casinos, Four Winds Hartford, was built in 2011 in Hartford, Michigan, approximately 45 miles northeast of its parent New Buffalo gaming facility. It contains approximately 52,000 square feet of space, and features over 550 slot machines and nine table games. In addition, it houses a Timbers Fast Food & Deli.
Most recently, on April 30, the tribe’s third gaming facility opened in Dowagiac, Michigan. The smallest of the Four Winds properties, Four Winds Dowagiac includes 300 slot machines and four table games, in addition to a Timbers restaurant. The property also features a non-smoking area with 20 slot machines.
“Dowagiac is home to the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians Tribal Government as well as many Pokagon citizens, which made it the natural location for our newest property,” says Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians Tribal Chairman Matthew Wesaw.
Additionally, all three of the Four Winds Casino locations, along with more than 300 other tribal casinos across the nation, belong to the 16-state Native American progressive gaming network. The Four Winds Casinos also offer a signature player loyalty club, the W Club, across three gaming properties.
Existing Facility Expansion
Under the tribe’s compact with the state of Michigan, all three existing Four Winds casino properties may be expanded upon in the future. Currently, the tribe’s two satellite properties are authorized to feature 1,000 slot machines at each location. Four Winds Hartford currently houses approximately 550 slot machines while Four Winds Dowagiac holds 300.
According to Wesaw, the facilities were built with an easily removable wall if necessary and depending on market conditions. There are currently no expansion plans for either facility. In addition, Four Winds New Buffalo does not have any restrictions regarding expansion, and last year Phase II was completed, debuting a new hotel tower, event center and Hard Rock Cafe. According to Wesaw, there are hopes for an additional hotel tower and more amenities in the future, depending on market conditions.
The new Dowagiac casino brings the number of tribal casino properties in Michigan to 23, vying for players along with Detroit’s three commercial casinos.
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is the only federally recognized Native American tribe in the state of Indiana. In June, the tribe opened a local South Bend office to serve its tribal citizen base, and enhanced its presence in the area, which has been home to the tribe for at least 800 years.
In August 2012, the Bureau of Indian Affairs published a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, in regards to a proposed plan by the tribe to develop land in South Bend for economic development projects. The proposed development includes plans for 44 housing units, multi-purpose and health facilities, and a Class III gaming facility with ancillary structures.
“The three-part application, meaning government offices, residential units and economic development, has been made and is now in the hands of the federal government,” states Wesaw. “But there are no current plans for a casino at the South Bend location. It is simply a possibility by virtue of the way that the application was filed. Our focus is, and will remain, government services and residential units for our tribal citizens.”
The tribe currently holds approximately 165 acres in South Bend that it is seeking to place into trust with the federal government to establish a tribal land base in Indiana. There are currently no tribal casinos in Indiana, though there are 13 commercial casinos in the state.
Social and Charitable Contributions
As a result of the successful operation of the tribe’s gaming facilities, the tribe has paid more than $70 million to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and more than $24 million to local governments in the New Buffalo area since 2007.
Notably, in 2012, the Pokagon Band made $5.6 million in contributions to the New Buffalo Local Revenue Sharing Board and $1 million to the Hartford Local Revenue Sharing Board pursuant to the tribe’s compact with the state. Much of this funding is used for parks, road improvement and school-related programs such as athletics, music, art and technology.
In addition to its mandated contributions to the state and local governments, the tribe made nearly $35 million in additional contributions to the economy. This includes $25 million spent by the tribe with 3,132 vendors nationwide as well as $2.6 million in grants from The Pokagon Fund, which is supported by electronic gaming revenue from the tribe’s Four Winds New Buffalo.
The tribe and local governments established the Pokagon Fund, which receives a percentage of funds derived from electronic gaming revenue. It is comprised of a seven-person board that receives applications for many of the same services noted above and recently began granting scholarships to those in need.
The mission of the Pokagon Fund is to enhance the lives of the residents in the New Buffalo region through the financial support of local governments, nonprofits, charities and other organizations. (For more information, visit pokagonfund.org.) This fund is wholly separate from the state-mandated taxes derived under the tribe’s compact.
“We felt it was important to make additional investments in the communities of Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana through our Pokagon Fund and other direct donations to various charitable causes and events,” says Wesaw. “The Pokagon Band also makes it a priority to support local vendors and hire locally for our gaming operations and other ventures. Throughout the year, we have also worked to improve the environment through initiatives including our water quality program and our wetlands reserve program.”
Other specific community outreach efforts include the annual Four Winds Invitational golf tournament, which donates proceeds from the event to Memorial Children’s Hospital. This year marked the second year of the Invitational, which featured a field of professional women golfers from around the world competing for the largest purse offered to players on the Symetra Tour—Road to the LPGA.
“Last year, along with the support of several local sponsors, we raised $53,000 to support the purchase of a life-saving pediatric ambulance for Memorial Children’s Hospital, which will touch the lives of more than 500 critically ill and injured children each year,” says Wesaw. “We also donated $10,000 to the Ronald McDonald Family Room last year. We are extremely pleased that this year we will support the purchase of a neonatal incubator transport unit, which will further enhance Memorial Children’s Hospital’s ability to serve the community.”
The tribe is also actively involved with assisting its citizens. Wesaw remarks, “We developed a philosophy about four years ago, under many of the same council members serving today, to focus primarily on the health, education and housing for Pokagon tribal citizens.”
Wesaw says the Pokagon tribal citizenry must first and foremost be healthy in order to be confident, happy and self-sufficient. The tribe plans to break ground on a $12 million consolidated health clinic later this summer, and recently hired its first citizen doctor to serve the tribe.
Educational efforts include scholarship opportunities for tribal citizens, which includes tuition and ancillary cost assistance. Wesaw notes that the tribe does not discriminate based upon age, and encourages its members to continue their education at any age. Additionally, the tribe has engaged a commercial tutoring agency to offer services to any of its tribal citizens who live throughout the greater United States.
In connection with the opening of Four Winds Dowagiac, Wesaw says 32 residential units are in the process of being finalized to be offered to tribal citizens in that area. In addition, residential units will be built next year near the Four Winds Hartford Casino, and once its South Bend federal trust application is finalized, residential housing will begin to be built there.
In an effort to diversify itself outside of the casino industry, the tribe announced this year that it will proactively begin pursuing brick-and-mortar businesses outside of gambling to build economic diversification into its portfolio. The tribe’s development arm, Mno-Bmadsen, was chartered in 2007 as a wholly owned, unincorporated instrumentality of the tribe, which is afforded all of the privileges and immunities of the tribe, including immunity from taxation, regulation and unconsented suit.
According to the Mno-Bmadsen, it “serves as an engine for the economic development efforts of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. Since its creation, the tribe has embraced a network of self-sustaining trade and self-reliance within its community. Mno-Bmadsen is the next step in sustaining the tribe through mergers, acquisitions and investments that will allow it to continue to thrive in the centuries to come.”
Under its charter, Mno-Bmadsen ultimately seeks to develop its resources in a manner that produces maximum long-term value for the tribe’s citizenry while establishing a secure investing environment.
Subsidiaries and recent acquisition projects of Mno-Bmadsen include an architecture and engineering company. Additional targeted industries include heath care, elder care and medical devices, manufacturing, green/sustainable industries, human capital development, information technology, gaming suppliers and hospitality, food production, government contracting, and commercial real estate. Its most recent acquisition includes Accu-Mold LLC, a Portage, Michigan-based manufacturing and engineering firm.
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi has shown that, through sound leadership and innovative planning, sustainable social, cultural and economic benefits can be obtained to service its tribal citizenry as well as its host communities, not only now, but for many future generations to come. Their economic footprint has grown substantially since the opening of their first gaming property in 2007, and there do not appear to be any signs of a slowdown under current leadership and expansion efforts being made by the tribe.