Pokagon tribe pursues new casino

A Michiana Indian tribe is ready to try and launch a ‘satellite.’

A satellite casino, that is.

The tribal owners of the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo today voted to expand gaming operations by pursuing a satellite facility near Hartford.

Hartford is in Van Buren County and has its own exit off I-94. Hartford is about five miles north of Coloma, and 45-miles away from New Buffalo.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians has had state permission to pursue the satellite project since October of 2008 when it renegotiated a gaming compact with Michigan.

The Hartford area casino would be much smaller than the Four Winds in New Buffalo.

Sources say the Hartford area project as discussed would include 500-slot machines—about one sixth the number that the tribe has in New Buffalo.

Hartford is a one traffic light town of some 24 hundred residents that does have some vacant storefronts dotting the downtown.

“Over night they will be definitely our largest employer in the community yes,” said Hartford City Manager Yemi Akinwale. “We are going to embrace the Pokagon Band with open arms cause of the opportunity that it brings in to our community and I believe that they will get community support and I’m pretty sure we will do whatever we can to make their project a successful one.”

Sources say the casino project could bring up to 300-new jobs to town. “It would bring a lot of jobs to our community which we don’t have as of right now” said Cody Scott a Hartford resident.

Judy Willis agreed that the area needs jobs, but at what cost? “We definitely need jobs in town but I don't know there's a price to pay for them I think sometimes you know, ‘cause casinos make money, they don't give it away,

Willis said her objections to the casino were mainly due to her religious background. “What bothers me? I think that it can be an addiction for people just like drugs and alcohol and I think that a lot of families get torn apart.”

Few families would live closer to the proposed casino than Darren Frazier’s. “It would be about a mile, mile and a half from the house, I myself see no problem with it.”

After all, the Hartford High school sports teams carry the nickname the “Indians,” and Hartford is a city where a lot of tribal members have been neighbors a lot longer than they’ve been proposed casino developers.

“I've grown up and went to school with many of the Indian families, that are part of the tribe, and I have only had good experiences with them,” Frazier said.

In fact, former tribal chairman John Miller now serves on the Hartford City Council, according to the city manager.

The proposed casino would actually be in Hartford Township although the facility would rely on sewer and water service from the City of Hartford.

Today the Gaming Authority of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi voted to move forward with the expansion project near Hartford.

A written release from the tribe indicated that the move represents the first step in an extensive process.

The tribe will now app roach the local units of government involved to try and negotiate details of the project.

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