Gambling on a Casino

By Libby John

American Indian tribe Prairie Band Potawotomi still plans to bring a casino to Shabbona, tribe spokesman Jim McCarthy said.

The tribe is trying to re-establish what it thinks is its land near the small town in southern DeKalb County.

“They are having dialogue with the [Illinois] governor’s office to move that process forward,” McCarthy said.

Brad Hahn, a spokesman from Congressman Dennis Hastert’s office, said the tribe contacted the Department of the Interior with the proposal about three years ago. It has not heard from the tribe since then, he said.

McCarthy said John Leshy of the Department of the Interior sent a letter to Hastert and Gov. Rod Blagojevich stating that the land belonged to the tribe.

A former official in the Department of the Interior originally said the land belonged to the tribe and it was free to build a casino on it. That official did not have the authority to do that, Hahn said.

“There has been no communication since,” he said. “There are still a lot of questions.”

The tribe first lost its Illinois reservation in the 1840s. While the band was in Kansas, being forced out of its land there, people claimed the tribe abandoned its land in Illinois. The former Office of Indian Affairs didn’t conduct an investigation, and the land then was sold at a public auction.

When the tribe returned to Illinois, it discovered its land was sold illegally and was forced out of the reservation.

Since then, the tribe has tried unsuccessfully to regain its land.

The tribe in Kansas built a casino on its land, and the casino has proved to be a very positive source of income there, McCarthy said. The casino helped bring jobs into the area, and other area businesses also were able to profit.

McCarthy said he doesn’t see a problem with business, even though there is a casino nearby in Aurora.

Shabbona Mayor Claudia Hicks said the tribe is not required to go to the village board to bring the casino to the town.

“We haven’t had any communication with the tribe,” she said.

She also said no community members have gotten too upset about the possibility of having a casino nearby.

McCarthy said he has heard a variety of reaction from the community, most being very encouraging.

“It will make more jobs and better infrastructure,” he said.

Also, the profits the casino makes will be given back to the community. The tribe does not keep the money, he said.