Indiana Gov. Holcomb Signs Bill Allowing Pokagon Band Class III Gaming

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Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed HEA 1055 on Thursday, expanding the state’s gaming compact with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians to include Class III gaming, which will permit slot machines, table games, and sports betting at Four Winds Casino in South Bend.

The bill passed by an overwhelming 76-4 margin in the state legislature April 19, an additional step required by the General Assembly in 2015 when the Pokagon Band first considered opening a casino in the Hoosier State, and reached Holcomb’s desk Wednesday. The bill must get final approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, which oversees Indian gaming.

Indiana Gaming Commission Executive Director Sara Gonso Tait negotiated on behalf of the state, with the process starting in August 2019 when the Pokagon Band sent a letter to the governor asking to “initiate discussions.” The two sides reached an agreement in January, with the compact calling for a 10% revenue share to go to state and local government. That includes an annual payment of 8% on the “Net Win” from all slot machines and the extension of a local agreement that includes a 2% payment to the city of South Bend.

Hotel tower in the works

The Pokagon Band’s casino in South Bend, which opened in 2018, is currently expanding to include a 23-story tower that will have more than 300 hotel rooms, 83 suites, and a convention center. Plans for that project were announced in September 2019, but construction only resumed in February after a 10-month delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the original target date of a September 2021 opening uncertain.

The ability to offer full gaming, including retail sports betting, puts Four Winds on an equal footing with other casinos in a crowded Northwest Indiana gaming scene that will soon feature six casinos when including the Pokagon Band’s Four Winds location in New Buffalo, Michigan.

Hard Rock will open its Northern Indiana casino in Gary in less than a month, the third venue in close proximity to the Indiana-Illinois border along with Ameristar Casino in East Chicago and Horseshoe Hammond. All three casinos are within an hour’s drive of Chicago, while Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City and both Four Winds properties are less than 100 miles from the Midwest metropolis.

There will be a ceremonial bill signing next week.

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Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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