Dowagiac area casino to open Tuesday

An attempt to create an economic boon in the boondocks is underway.

Construction is complete on the Four Winds Casino Dowagiac.

“This is home for our people, our government offices are about three miles to the west of here,” said the Tribal Chairman of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Matt Wesaw.

While the location at 58700 M-51 south might be convenient for a big chunk of the tribe’s population base, it’s perhaps the last place a betting person might expect to find a gaming facility.

The site is rural and isolated. It is some 25 miles from I-94, and about four miles south of Dowagiac.

The newest Four Winds has 300 slot machines and four stations for table games.

“The hiring is great, we have on staff approximately 135 employees,” said Property Shift Manager Mary Jo Varga. “Over half of them are already training from our New Buffalo and or Hartford properties and as we have already had said, half of them are tribal member or tribal spouses.”

Pokagon Band Chairman Matt Wesaw says closer to 60-percent of the workers at Four Winds Dowagiac are tribal members or their spouses. He says that compares with an average of 15-percent at the other Four Winds locations.

“It’s more than double of the other two or the other, it’s double Hartford and about triple of New Buffalo,” agrees Four Winds Dowagiac General Manager Frank Freedman.

The new facility lies in Pokagon Township, but the City of Dowagiac will have a representative on the Local Revenue Sharing Board. “We are one of five members of the L.R.S.B. and have played an active role in bringing that to the point where we're ready to start sharing some of the loot,” said Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons. “Dowagiac can provide a resource officer for the school district, we’ve got a new soccer/ baseball complex that we’re going to be building this year, it could be roughly $1 million to put in to that.”

The L.R.S.B. will also consist of representatives from Cass County, Pokagon Township, the Pokagon Band and the president of Southwestern Michigan College.

Chairman Wesaw said it was too early to know exactly how much money local governments would be in line to share. “If you look at Hartford, was $1 million, this is half the size of Hartford so, if you use rough numbers it might be a half million, it’s just, it’s too early to tell.”

Today the facility was opened to tribal members. On Tuesday at noon, it will open to the general public. Once the casino opens, it will remain open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

“And I think one of the benefits of playing at one of the Four Winds satellite properties, it gives you a midweek, you know, place to pop in and to play a little bit,” said G.M. Frank Freedman. “Many of our same guests, and we've seen this, will come to the New Buffalo facility on the weekend where they plan to make a day of it or an evening of it, see a show and sit down and have a nice steak dinner, so this is more of a convenience more of an neighborhood feel and that's basically how we designed it.”

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