What should planners know about Indian*-owned casinos? Is it different than booking a non-tribal venue? In the Midwest, states boasting the highest number of these casinos are Michigan (18+), Minnesota (20+) and Wisconsin (18). Several have meeting/event space as part of the property.
*For clarification, in this article Indian, Tribal and Native American all have the same meaning - indigenous groups of self-governed people that are recognized by the US as a tribe, constituting a sovereign nation.
Background to Indian Gaming
Legal Indian-gaming came through the US government’s desire for tribes to lessen dependency on federal funds. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) passed in 1988, giving tribes authority to operate casinos on their** land, as long as it was in concert with federal laws and didn’t conflict with any in that state. Soon after, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) was created to regulate tribal casino business, especially approval of Class III gaming (roulette, blackjack, poker, slots or races). **Most reservations are land held in trust by the US government. (www.nigc.gov)
Truth or Myth
Any group of Indians can operate a casino. Myth. The group must be a federally recognized tribe.
All Indian tribes have casinos on their land. Myth. Less than half do.
Tribes have governments, rules and their own courts. True. Tribal Councils are the ruling body.
Breaking a tribal law can be appealed in another court. Myth. Tribal courts have jurisdiction over all but federal crimes.
Income earned from a casino might benefit other tribes. True. Some tribes join together to share profits for specific projects.
You cannot plan a family-oriented event. Myth. Many have adult and children’s activities.
A Brief Look at Three Tribal-Owned Casinos
In Michigan, about an hour from Chicago, are the Four Winds Casinos (New Buffalo, Hartford and Dowagiac). The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians own all three. New Buffalo’s Four Winds is the largest, with a new multi-use event center and over 400 rooms. Four Winds welcomes family members, having a supervised children’s entertainment facility. Timothy Adams, Sales & Catering Manager, stated, “It (New Buffalo) is an oasis-type atmosphere, from the winding entrance way, beautiful wooded areas and property built into the natural landscape. The Pokagon Band incorporates its customs into the facilities’ openings.”
The North Star Mohican Casino Resort has a reputation as the Midwest’s “friendliest casino.” It is owned and operated by the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Indians, between Green Bay and Wausau, WI. Mario Conte, Hotel Director/Director of Food and Beverage/Casino stated they, “Concentrate on one-on-one service, working hard to keep a balance between casino players and locals that come primarily for a good meal at an affordable price.” Family-friendly could mean an ice cream parlor, special Mother’s Day buffet or the Mohican RV Park, open all-year round.
Just north of Topeka, KS, is the Prairie Band Casino & Resort, owned by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. Besides great convention space, special entertainment and gaming action, groups can come just to “Play and Stay” at the Firekeeper Golf Course, designed by four-time Native American PGA winner Notah Begay III. Sheryl Blue, Advertising Director, stated that, “Our superb team assists with planning every detail, working with a very talented culinary staff, which results in personally and flawlessly executing each event.” Outstanding customer service and formal hospitality/casino training are definitely prized in all areas of Prairie Band’s operations.
From breath-taking natural environments, specialty F&B venues, children’s centers to multi-purpose space and professionally trained staff, tribal-owned casinos are transforming. Both exterior and interior architecture reflects key elements important to the tribe. Hotel rooms are designed for comfort and peace with upscale amenities.
If your group wants to go golfing, take in some top-name entertainment, learn more about a Native American tribe or be able to bring the whole family on a trip, there are options. Restful, peaceful surroundings might be the main reason to come. Do research or call to know the offerings, dates, policies and specials to fit your group.
Sally Magallanes, CMP, has been a freelance writer and editor for over 15 years. She wrote extensively for MPI-Chicago Area Chapter’s former print piece, News & Views. Other specialties include proofreading, research pieces, biographical profiles, website content, marketing, e-newsletters and developing mission statements. She has been a full-time and freelance meeting professional for over 20 years, working with corporate, medical and non-profit groups. Ms. Magallanes has a BS in Hospitality Management, Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL.