State

Tribe's bingo hall plan under review by federal agency

SHABBONA – A federal agency is reviewing a proposal to put a Native American electronic bingo hall on the outskirts of a northern Illinois village.

The plan from the Kansas-based Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation would put a 24-hour bingo hall near the DeKalb County village of Shabbona. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is reviewing the proposal. It collected public comments on the casino's environmental impact in January and February. A preliminary report on that impact is expected in October, said Department of Interior spokeswoman Nedra Darling.

A critical issue is whether the nation has a legal right to put the facility on the 128 acres it purchased for $8.8 million in a private sale in 2006. To get approval from the Department of Interior for the facility, the tribe has to show it has a credible claim to the land, that it would be used to "facilitate tribal self-determination, economic development or Indian housing," and that it would not cause environmental harm.

The tribe contends the land, which borders Shabbona Lake State Park and a forest preserve, is part of 1,280 acres given to the tribe's Chief Shab-eh-nay and his band by the U.S. government under a treaty in 1829. A group against the bingo hall says the land wasn't formally considered a reservation and was given to the chief for personal use, and that he abandoned it and tried to sell it.

There's also an issue in a 2011 federal policy change on tribal casino placement. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk scrapped a guideline letting tribes have gambling facilities within "commutable distance" of a reservation, which was generally considered roughly 40 miles. The change formed new guidelines that didn't specifically reference an allowable distance.

The plan for the bingo hall has reignited emotions since public comments were gathered, the Chicago Tribune reported. Some see the plan as economic salvation, while others see it as ruining peaceful rural culture.

Potawatomi consultants estimate the facility would bring in 930,000 people annually. The consultants say there would be more than 650 construction jobs, followed by 400 facility jobs and a payroll above $40 million a year.

The facility would give DeKalb County $2.25 million a year in revenue sharing and $400,000 for payments in lieu of taxes, from which tribes are exempt. The village of Shabbona is projected to get $250,000 annually in its shared revenue agreement. The nation would also give $25,000 annually to charity.

"Most businesses want to come into the community and have the community give them incentives to come," said Denny Sands, who owns the cafe, bait shop and boat rental business at the state park. "This is just the opposite. The tribe is coming into the community to be a good neighbor, to give back to the community."

Peter Dordal, president of DeKalb County Taxpayers Against the Casino, moved in 2000 a few hundred feet south of the land later bought by the tribe. He said traffic, intoxication and storm water runoff from the proposed site to Shabbona Lake would hurt natural areas and the quiet atmosphere.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

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