Monday, January 13, 2014

The New Casino

I was just talking to my mother in Michigan and she was mentioning some of the benefits New Buffalo Township is seeing from a casino built in the township by the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians, which was pretty controversial when it went in.

The school district is provided with laptops for every student, and after graduation they get a $2,500 per semester scholarship, up to $25,000 over five years. Mom said my sister-in-law just finished her masters degree with a $6,000 grant from the Pokagons. She also got gas money because the extension university she attended is 30 miles away in Benton Harbor. She's now back in teaching.

The Indians have built a park in the township and helped the state build another. I know the site of one of them. It's along the Galien River, which, before it empties into Lake Michigan winds through the wooded dunes that stretch several miles inland from the lake, where there are large marshes along either side that were always teeming with wildlife, especially migratory waterfowl. It's one of the most beautiful areas around there. I used to go duck hunting out there. After turning off Red Arrow Highway onto a two-track and driving through the woods to the edge of a dune and climbing down the bank I'd walk out into the marsh in chest waders. Robbie Kruger had made a blind out there, or you could just stand behind a bush. Now there's stairs and trails and a boardwalk and so forth.

Every student, and seniors, gets $600 a year toward an eye exam and glasses. Mom says my niece, who needs special glasses, takes advantage of that. Once a week a truck shows up at the casino with meat, vegetables, fruit, canned and dry goods, and township residents can come down and fill up a box and take it home, for free.

The Pokagon have paid for water system improvements like lines, a lift station and a water tower. I don't know how much that amounts to in dollars and cents but some of the township residents were glad to have water. People who tried to drill sometimes got water right away and sometimes would get nothing or salt water.

The benefits the town gets are because when my Mom was township supervisor and the casino was being debated, she negotiated a separate deal with the Pokagans apart from the deal they negotiated with the state. The Indians are exempt from paying taxes, she said, but they agreed to pay a percentage of their take to the state. The state gets a couple percent, and that is shared with the city and the township and the county, and Mom, in her agreement, got another percent for the township.

Agnes Conway - Mom

Mom says has never gambled at the casino but goes to one of the restaurants now and then and gets the free food sometimes. As I say, the casino has been controversial. I came across an article in the Columbus (OH) Dispatch, where they were going to get a casino built by the same developer. A Dispatch reporter went up to New Buffalo and found that some of the locals are still not happy with the casino. New Buffalo is a little over an hour from Chicago and many of the people there have retired there, and they don't want no casinos. They don't want no casinos, no pool halls, no strip joints, and no jobs. Us locals are allowed to stay though, because they need someone to do their yard work and plumbing and remodeling.



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