Low – Casino Revenue

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So, the economics of Four Winds Casino, New Buffalo has been of great benefit to everybody. It’s been very good for the tribe, it’s also been good for the state and for the local municipalities. The state receives 8 percent of the revenues from our slot machines. The local municipalities receive 2 percent. The State of Michigan is in a very difficult financial situation, so those monies help a lot. Similarly, the local municipalities also really benefit a lot from that 2 percent payoff to them. And they deserve that because we create, you know, we’ve got a large footprint there, and so they deserve that.

We also have a Pokagon fund, which is a philanthropic arm of the Pokagon Potawatomi Nation that is autonomous of the tribal council. It’s made up of both Pokagon tribal members and non-tribal members, leaders of the community in southwest Michigan, and they fund various projects, Boy Scouts, shelters, libraries, pools, reading initiatives, Headstart programs, all those sorts of things. And so that’s been very beneficial, too. I think all of southwest Michigan considers Four Winds Casino to be a very good neighbor. And also, frankly, when we opened, we created 2500 jobs. The day we opened we became the second largest employer in Berrien County, where we’re located. Next to Whirlpool, the white collar jobs there, at their administrative offices, next to Whirlpool, we’re the second largest employer. That’s in living wages, too. We’re talking living wages, not minimum salary. So that’s been really important also. We also help the New Buffalo area. We’ve become a destination. People, half the people in New Buffalo are from Illinois anyway, and so when they’re there vacationing anyway, they go down to the casino and they spend more money that goes into the state. And so it’s just drawing more money from people that can afford to give it away. And we also have a great buffet. We also have the opportunity to negotiate a compact with the State of Indiana, and that’s something that we’re going to be starting very soon. We have the potential anyway to open up a casino in Indiana also because we can open up a casino in any part of our service area, which is ten counties, six counties in Indiana, four counties in Michigan.

We started with nothing. We started with the business in 1994 of rebuilding a nation. And really in the last couple of years we’ve had cash flow so we can really start to do that. We just created an administrative building. We were operating out of a trailer before. And before that, we were operating out of a one-room schoolhouse where we used to pass the hat to pay the heating bill and we didn’t even own the parking lot. The farmer next door generously let us park next to the building. We’ve got an administrative building now, we’ve got a court system, we’ve got a Headstart system, we have a health system now, we’ve got a police department, we’ve got home remodeling. So those monies are divided up. We have infrastructure, is a part of the pie. And I don’t remember the percentages, but it’s a significant percentage. There’s also for citizen services, essentially. And that’s for remodeling, for taking care of those dirt floors, for getting running water, and for repairing those leaking roofs, for building—what we have is an award winning senior living area. It’s a housing development that has won awards for being so green, actually, is why it’s won its awards. It’s wonderful for seniors that want to do that, that to be able to live in that kind of community again. We’re also in the process of, we are building a cultural center, and that’s going to be a community space where we can come together and we can, you know, join together. We’ve not had those spaces. We’ve had to meet outdoors mostly. And so now we’re going to be able to have the ability to be inside. We have summer camp, we have again the college scholarships, we have job training. We also have the employment at the casino for members. But all of those monies are used for citizenship services essentially.

And then there is a category for “other,” which if you essentially are meeting the needs of the others, the other parts of the pie, you can then start to petition the Department of the Interior or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the commissioner of Indian Affairs, for permission to make per capita payments. And so we, at this time, we do make per capita payments for the Pokagon Potawatomi. We have a small amount that goes to elders, 55 and over, and we have a smaller amount, a fifth of that, goes to people under 55. The people under 18, that money is kept in trust, interest-bearing accounts, until they turn 18. And so one of the things that we’re certainly concerned about is that we don’t, at least from my perspective, my individual perspective, is that I can say that I don’t want the per capitas to get to the point where we lose a sense of who we are or what we should be about or we lose the reason to work, [or] we lose the reason to contribute. That we need to remember where this comes from and that the roller coaster history of federal policies towards Indians has been, “we take it away as quickly as we give it to you.” And so, the key is to get an education, get a home, take care of your family, take care of the community, and that’s what you should be doing. But if a small per capita helps you pay the bills, helps you do little things with your family, and keeps the wolf away from the door, so you don’t have to have restless nights all the time, I’m all for it. That was the way that we were before Europeans got here, is that when we had plenty, we shared it. And there’s nothing wrong with sharing it if we’ve got plenty now.

My name is John Low and I’m an enrolled member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indian Nation. I was born in Niles, Michigan, near the tribal headquarters in Dowagiac. And I grew up in that community, I [was] raised by my grandmother and my mother, who were Potawatomi. I am a lawyer. Graduated from University of Michigan Law School in 1981. I returned home at the request of my elders and also because of my own sense of responsibility and desire to return home and work in a small town practice and also work as a tribal attorney on behalf of the community and did so. And worked on the process along with many, many, many others who did more work than me on the federal recognition process, which was finally successful in 1994. Since 1994, I’m a co-author of our tribal constitution. Since 1994, I’ve served on tribal council, I’ve served on several committees for the tribe, including the Traditions and Repatriation Committee and the Economic Development Committee as a coauthor of the tribal constitution. I also subsequently took a leave of absence from practicing law and returned to school. First to get a second B.A. in American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota and then a Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago in the Social Sciences and now am completing a PhD in Cultural Studies at the University of Michigan in American culture. Currently, I’m employed as a visiting professor [in the American [Indian] Studies program] at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I live in Chicago and visit often with my relatives and my friends and with my community in Michigan. While I was at the University of Michigan, I also earned a graduate certificate in Museum Studies, which worked well with my subjects that I’m studying for my dissertation, but it also led to employment. I became the Executive Director at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, which I served as that director for about almost two years, the Mitchell Museum being located in Evanston, Illinois, and had the opportunity to work with a lot of Native and non-Native people in both curatorial and exhibition and preservation issues.

Production credits:

Executive Producer, Loretta Fowler
Assistant Producer, Brian Mornar
Production by Mike Media Group

Photo credits:

Four Winds Casino interior – photo courtesy of South Bend Tribune/Jim Rider
Casino slots – photo courtesy of South Bend Tribune
Four Winds Casino overview – photo courtesy of South Bend Tribune/Marcus Marter
New Buffalo Public Library – photo courtesy of New Buffalo Public Library
Copper Rock Steakhouse – photo courtesy of South Bend Tribune/Jim Rider
Service area map – Courtesy of Intertribal Council of Michigan
Trailer – photo courtesy of Jason Wesaw
Council chambers – photo courtesy of Jason Wesaw
Headstart building – photo courtesy of Jason Wesaw
Police – photo courtesy of Jason Wesaw
Senior center – photo courtesy of Jason Wesaw
Powwow grounds 1 – photo courtesy of Jason Wesaw
Powwow grounds 2 – photo courtesy of South Bend Tribune
Elders at Powwow – photo courtesy of South Bend Tribune/Su Anderson

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