By a unanimous vote, the tribal owners of the Four Winds Casino near New Buffalo approved plans to build a satellite casino some 45 miles up the road—near Hartford.
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians actually has permission to build two satellite casinos—but members are only prepared to move ahead with one of the projects at this time.
“With the economy as it is, I think taking one at a time is probably the best way to go,” said Tribal Chairman Matt Wesaw
When it came to building the Four Winds Casino near New Buffalo, the sky seemed to be the limit, but the plans for the Hartford area facility are more down to earth.
“We can have up to 1,000 slots,” said Wesaw. “We probably will not start out that large, we'll probably go smaller just to make sure….”
Preliminary plans envision 500-slot machines near Hartford along with some table games.
The Hartford area facility would be open 24 hours a day and should create between 250 and 300 jobs.
Furthermore, the Hartford facility would be both owned and operated by the tribe, in contrast to the Four Winds which is managed by Lakes Entertainment, a private company.
“This tribal council, there are 11 of us, we are a very, in my opinion, a very conservative group and we’re not going to make rash decisions if we think we can make ten bucks tomorrow, these are long range decisions, you know, in the culture you always talk seven generations ahead,” said Chairman Wesaw.
While opening any new business is a gamble given the current economic conditions—the tribe is convinced the Hartford project is a safe bet.
“We’ve had probably three different studies done, and it appears now from everything we’re learning that this is probably the right thing to do and the right time to do it,” said Wesaw. “The economy’s going to be what we make it, we can’t sit back and wait for other people to do it, we’ve got to make our own economy and I think that’s what we’re doing.”
A total of 19 Indian casinos now dot the Michigan landscape, but Wesaw is convinced that the market can handle one more.
“Even though Michigan, with the second highest unemployment in the country and almost 30-casinos this market is not saturated, there are still openings,” said Wesaw. “I don’t know how closely you followed, but this past summer there were two different ballot initiatives that folks were attempting to get on the ballot, neither of them were successful, but the potential there was for 15 new gaming sites, now that might have been a saturation point, I’m not sure.”
A timetable for the Hartford area project is still up in the air, although the chairman hopes construction would start sometime in 2011.
For Wesaw, Hartford is more than just a spot on the map. “We were born and raised in Bangor, went to the Bangor School System, we were a half a mile from the district line, otherwise we would have been in Hartford, but all or our family lived in Hartford, we were practically raised there, my uncles, my aunt, my grandfather on both my mom and dad’s side were from Hartford.”