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Southwestern Michigan tribal casino set to open 7-07

NEW BUFFALO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - After six years of legal challenges that delayed
its construction, the $400 million Four Winds Casino Resort,
southwestern Michigan's first casino, is set to open its doors the first week of August.

The Dowagiac-based Pokagon Tribe of Potawatomi Indians owns the
casino complex on a 675-acre site in Berrien County's New Buffalo
Township, which is near Lake Michigan just north of the Indiana
border. It has a five-year contract with Lakes Entertainment Inc. in
Minneapolis to manage the casino.

Michigan has 17 other casinos fully owned by American Indian tribes,
plus three casinos in Detroit and at least two more in the works. The
nearest in-state casino is the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount
Pleasant, about 160 miles to the northeast.

The Four Winds, however, will be competing mostly against five
casinos in northern Indiana, the closest of which is the Blue Chip
Casino Hotel in Michigan City, Ind., about 10 miles away.

The tribe's land-in-trust application with the federal government had
been held up by legal challenges filed by New Buffalo-based Taxpayers
of Michigan Against Casinos.

The way was cleared for the government to take the land into trust in
January 2006, when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.,
upheld a federal judge's rejection of environmental arguments and
other issues raised by the opposing group. The tribe broke ground on
the casino in June 2006.

Under a 1997 compact, the state will collect 8 percent of the take
from electronic slot machines and the county and local communities
will split 2 percent.

Berrien County Administrator Bill Wolf estimates that, during the
first year of the casino's operation, New Buffalo Public Schools will
receive $971,126, New Buffalo Township $739,921 and the county
$623,908.

In addition, tribal leaders voluntarily set up a philanthropic
revenue stream called the Pokagon Fund they said will “enhance
economic and civic activities” in the New Buffalo area.

“It's over and above” what the tribe is required to pay out based
on the compact it made with the state, Wolf told the South Bend
(Ind.) Tribune, which ran a series about the casino this week.

The Pokagon Fund will distribute another 2 percent of its take from
slot machines to surrounding communities for the casino's first two
years. The fund will pay out 1 percent in years three through five
and 0.75 percent in future years.

Those funds are expected to be distributed to about nine area
communities and school systems.
On the Net:
Four Winds Casino Resort: http://www.fourwindscasino.com
Pokagon Tribe of Potawatomi Indians: http://www.pokagon.com
Lakes Entertainment Inc.: http://www.lakesentertainment.com
Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort: http://www.soaringeaglecasino.com
Blue Chip Casino Hotel: http://www.bluechip-casino.com

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com
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