Tribal casinos in Indiana?

Potawatomis try to beat the odds against state pushback



The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians submitted a land-into-trust application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for 166 acres of their land in South Bend, with a plan to build a village that includes a 500-room, 18-story hotel, health clinic, tribal offices, 44 housing units for tribal citizens and possibly a casino. Chairman John P. Warren downplays the gaming aspect, explaining that the tribe was required to state all conceivable development as part of the process, which began more than two years ago.

But state lawmakers were nervous about that possibility—so nervous that Rep. Tom Dermody (R-LaPorte) introduced House Bill 1540, which required the General Assembly to approve any Class III gaming compacts with the tribe.

Legislative approval is not uncommon in other states, but this bill contained language that dictates requirements that must be included in the agreement. Language is also included regarding the management, administration and regulation of gaming (including the types of games operated by the tribe), infrastructure and site improvements.

Warren believes that will inhibit the governor from negotiating in good faith and says much of the language about management and infrastructure violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

On May 8, Gov. Pence let HEA 1540 become law without his signature and left on an eight-day junket to China.

He had evaded requests for an interview for more than a week.

A first for everything

This marks the first time the land-to-trust process has been initiated in Indiana. If approved, the proposed Four Winds for South Bend would be the first Indian casino in this state. The Pokagons have three casinos in Michigan.

The Pokagon Band gained federal recognition through an act of Congress in 1994. The law requires the BIA to place land in trust for the tribe's reservation. Usually, land placed in trust after 1988 cannot be used for gaming, but an exception in Section 20 of the IGRA applies to tribes that were restored to federal recognition.

The IGRA entitles tribes to offer the same types of gaming that are already legal in a state. Riverboat casinos, land casinos and racinos are legal in Indiana.

Pence has often stated his opposition to the expansion of gambling and to human dealers. However, if the state government wants any input in what goes on at this casino, he must enter into a compact with the Pokagons. Many have conjectured that his reluctance stems from the thought that negotiating would signify his approval for the casino.

Because negotiating a Class III gaming compact would also be a first in Indiana, Warren suspects some lawmakers fear it. "You have to realize, of 150 legislators, there's a lot of gaming interests," he told the press.


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