Sports wagering and table games, such as blackjack, roulette and baccarat, may become available within the next year at the tribal-owned Four Winds Casino in South Bend.
The Times has learned that Matthew Wesaw, tribal chairman of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, recently asked Gov. Eric Holcomb to enter into negotiations toward a tribal-state gaming compact that would permit all types of gambling at the South Bend casino.
The 175,000-square-foot casino that opened Jan. 16, 2018, currently is limited to Class II gaming activities, which include bingo, pull-tabs and poker.
While its 1,800 gaming machines appear identical to the slot machines at the five Northwest Indiana commercial casinos, the payouts at South Bend actually are determined by electronic bingo games running, often unseen, behind displays featuring slot-style reels.
Wesaw's letter to Holcomb declares the tribe now is interested in offering Class III gaming at its South Bend casino — opening the door to actual slot machines, table games, as well as sports wagering, which is set to become legal in Indiana on Sept. 1.
Holcomb reportedly is interested in inking a compact with the tribe and intends to create a negotiating committee led by Sara Tait, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission.
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The compact process is governed by both federal and state law. Besides potentially authorizing more types of gambling at the South Bend casino, the negotiations could result in the tribal casino paying gaming taxes to the state, which it currently does not due to tribal sovereignty.
In Michigan, where the Pokagon Band operates three additional Four Winds casinos, the tribe has signed a gaming compact with the state that requires 6% of net "win," or revenue after paying successful bets, go to state economic development programs, and an additional 2% be distributed to local governments.
The tribe already has been paying 2% of its Indiana win to the city of South Bend, or a minimum of $1 million a year. South Bend has allocated half the revenue to its general fund and half to the city's redevelopment commission.
At the same time, revenue sharing with the state could become a sticking point in negotiations, since non-tribal Indiana casinos pay a graduated wagering tax that ranges between 15% and 40% of win — significantly higher than what the tribe pays to Michigan.
Tait said because Wesaw's letter to the governor requesting negotiations only was received Aug. 13, no decisions have yet been made on when negotiations will take place.
A 2015 Indiana law requires any tribal-state compact signed by the governor also be ratified by the General Assembly before being submitted to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for final review and approval.