A Native American tribe that already operates a handful of casinos in Michigan is set to take their ventures South of the border to South Bend, Indiana. The Pokagon, which are part of the Potawatomi Tribe, are hoping that their newest casino venture will be open by the early stages of 2018. With ground for the project having been broken last week, things seem to be underway and running smoothly up to this point.
Like any casino project, however, this one does not exist without its fair share of controversy. With Indiana casinos already seeing revenues decline, the fear is that opening another site will only work to hurt casinos that are already in a tough spot. Still, Tribal Chairman John Warren holds different sentiments on the matter. He said, “Our citizens live here in South Bend in this area. We have a chance to better the community and their lives become better, and then everyone else benefits from that.” This is in line with what most heads of casino projects say, but there are plenty of doubters who do not think the South Bend area will see as much of a benefit as Warren says they will.
Something worth noting about the proposed casino is that the one currently under construction is going to be much smaller than the one the tribe had originally proposed. Rather than featuring more than 215,000 square feet of gaming space—something that would make it the state’s largest casino—the actual site will now feature just over 50,000 square feet of gaming space. The newer, smaller square footage will make this only the 6th largest casino in the state, and a bit smaller than Blue Chip Casino, which is located only a half hour from South Bend.
Another interesting facet of this whole situation is that, at the present moment in time, the Pokagon casino is only able to offer Class II casino games as was set forth via the passing of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. For those unaware, Class II casino games consist of almost exclusively bingo games and nothing else. In order for the casino to offer Class III games—baccarat, slot machines, blackjack, etc.—it would have to reach an agreement with the state of Indiana. The 1988 Act made it clear that while Native Americans can conduct casino operations, they are only allowed to offer Class III games so long as they have reached an agreement with the state in which their tribe is located.
The aforementioned, proposed agreement is something that will be hashed out after the turn of the New Year. The reason for this is due to the departure of current governor Mike Pence. Once Eric Holcomb, his replacement, takes office in January the real negotiations can commence. At this point it is tough to say whether Class III devices will be allowed at the new casino, but with most of Indiana’s casinos offering these games, most people are confident that Pokagon and the state will reach an agreement with little issue.
You can expect that preexistent casinos in Indiana will do their best to delay the establishment of South Bend’s newest casino, however seeing that ground on the project has already been broken, it will be tough to stop things now. This is a story we will keep an eye on moving forward, especially as the Pokagon attempt to receive permission from the state to host Class III casino games. As is often the case with these situations, there are a lot of moving parts that still need to be worked out. Despite this, it does seem as though South Bend, Indiana is barely more than a year away from hosting its first casino.