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updated: 8/29/2012 5:56 PM

Tribe proposes casino in South Bend

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Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- An American Indian tribe with a major casino in southwestern Michigan has included another casino in its development plan for land it owns in northern Indiana.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians plans what it calls a tribal village for the 164-acre site on South Bend's south side with 44 housing units and health service and tribal government facilities.

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The plan submitted to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs also proposes a casino, hotel, meeting space and parking garage, although Pokagon Band chairman Matt Wesaw said the tribe's focus was on providing services for about 500 members living in the area.

"There's no time frame for the casino yet. It's not really on the burner," Wesaw told the South Bend Tribune for a story Wednesday.

The tribe opened its Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Mich., about 30 miles from South Bend, five years ago. It has since opened a smaller satellite casino in Hartford, Mich., and is preparing to open another in Dowagiac, Mich.

"We've accomplished a fair amount of stuff for our citizens who live in the state of Michigan," Wesaw told WNDU-TV. "It is now time to be in a position to provide those services for our citizens who live in the service area in Indiana."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has scheduled a Sept. 27 public hearing in South Bend on the tribe's proposal.

Mike Schmuhl, the chief of staff for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, said the city has had positive early dialogue with the tribe about the land near the U.S. 20/31 bypass.

"This federal action is a first step toward the Pokagon Band becoming more involved in our community, and we will continue to communicate with them as they move forward," Schmuhl said.

None of Indiana's 13 casinos are affiliated with Indian tribes, and the closest of those to South Bend is the Blue Chip about 30 miles to the west in Michigan City.

The state has received inquiries before from Indian tribes seeking to establish a casino in Indiana, but those groups didn't own property for the project, said Ernest Yelton, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission since 2005.

"This is far more concrete than anything we've seen since I've been here," Yelton told The Elkhart Truth.

Wesaw said the tribe would consider whether to seek a gambling compact with Indiana officials that would include an agreement to share casino revenue.

"We don't know what the political landscape will be," he said. "When the time comes, who knows who will be sitting in the governor's seat."

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