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4/9/2017 1:03:00 PM
New Buffalo offers glimpse of possible South Bend casino impact
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A view of the new Four Winds South Bend casino under construction. Provided photo
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A view of the new Four Winds South Bend casino under construction. Provided photo

Erin Blasko, South Bend Tribune Staff Writer

NEW BUFFALO — When the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians announced plans for a casino here, critics predicted the worst: bumper-to-bumper traffic, noise, rampant crime, bankruptcy, divorce.

“With all the great stuff the area had — we used to call it The Hamptons of Lake Michigan — we didn’t need it,” said Mike Hosinski, former owner of Union Pier Bench and Table. “And we didn’t need to compete with it.”

By and large, however, people’s worst fears about the facility have not come true.

“I don’t think the casino has had the negative impact that we all kind of imagined,” said Hosinski, who once protested the casino as a member of Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos, a grass-roots citizens group. “The Pokagon have been extremely responsible in New Buffalo.”

As the band prepares to open a casino in South Bend, Four Winds New Buffalo, now in its 10th year of operation in New Buffalo Township, offers answers to the important question: What does it mean for the community?

Among critics of the project, the arguments are similar: casinos contribute to traffic, noise, crime, bankruptcy and divorce and draw money away from local small businesses.

But that hasn’t been the case in New Buffalo, which remains a typical Lake Michigan resort town, full of small local shops and restaurants, despite the nearby casino.

“It’s not a casino town,” said Jessica Conrad, owner of The Hidden Gem, a gift shop on Whittaker Street in downtown New Buffalo. “The casino gives people something to do, but there’s a lot to do in Harbor Country outside of the casino.”

Aside from a predictable uptick during the recession, rates of crime, divorce and bankruptcy have remained relatively flat in Berrien County since the $180 million facility opened southeast of downtown, near Interstate 94 and Michigan 239, in August 2007.

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