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County board, tribe near gaming deal

By Dennis Hines The Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe, which is planning a controversial gaming operation in Shabbona, may have an agreement hammered out with the DeKalb County Board by January. County Board Administrator Ray Bockman told the board's Executive Committee last week that a few final points are being worked out and a draft should be ready for consideration by December. Attorneys for the board and the tribe have been negotiating for months. The county's attorney, Dennis Whittlesey, has said the tribe is within its rights now to build a bingo facility without any approvals from state or local government. County Board Chair Ruth Anne Tobias and board member Pat Vary stressed again last week, as they have in the past, that the board is developing the agreement in self-defense. If the Indians go ahead and build the gaming facility, without the county input, it could be shut out of the operation entirely, without a voice on issues such as policing, fire protection, roads, hours the casino will be operating, sales taxes and environmental issues. The board sent a special request several months ago to the U. S. Department of the Interior for a clarification as to whether the Indian land in Shabbona qualifies as a reservation, but the county has not received a definitive response. While several arguments have been made on both sides, DeKalb County State's Attorney Ron Matekaitis has said he believes none have been conclusive. The Potawatomi have said they are proposing a tribal government building of about 2,500 square feet on 128 acres of land they purchased in the Shabbona area for more than $8 million. The bingo facility they described in the past would be about 22,000 square feet, for about 300 players, with a parking lot for 200 cars-and they said the operation &#8220would be less disruptive than a school sporting event.” The facility, which they said would have &#8220serene landscaping,” also would have a food and beverage service, security and surveillance. Last week, board member Julia Fauci said she recently visited a casino out of state and was amazed at all the related businesses around the actual gaming facility including restaurants and gasoline service stations. Fauci has said in the past she is personally opposed to gambling. There is heavy local opposition to a bingo operation, and especially a casino, in the Shabbona area. The opposition group, numbering 100-150 individuals, wants to retain the rural character of the area which includes Shabbona State Park, named for the former chief of the Prairie Band. The group also believes the Indians will offer better deals on gas prices and other services and will end up forcing out local businesses in Shabbona. The opposition group recently said it was not represented by an attorney, but may fight the proposed operation in the courts.

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