by Ray Poirier | Early returns indicate that Lyle Berman’s Lakes Entertainment Inc. (LACO) has a winner in the Four Winds Casino Resort in New Buffalo Township, Michigan.
The casino, located in a quaint harbor town on Lake Michigan, was developed and is operated by Lakes Entertainment for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. It has 100 gaming tables that feature blackjack, baccarat, roulette, craps and poker, as well as 3,000 slot machines.
With a slowing economy and high gasoline prices, businesses at the summer resort feared tough times this year but with the drawing power of the new casino business has been solid.
"It gives people more options at the gateway of Michigan to enjoy themselves even more when they come to the New Buffalo area," said Jerry Welsh, owner of a bed and breakfast facility near the casino.
Operators of local hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts say they are filling up more rooms. Also, several new restaurants and retail stores recently opened or soon will open near the casino. To accommodate casino workers, plans are being made for a 24-hour daycare center.
It’s not that the casino is without competition, locals note, Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD) operates the Blue Chip Casino Hotel in Michigan City, Indiana, some 10 miles away. But, as Welsh points out, he has never heard any of his clients expressing an interest in going to the Michigan City casino.
Welsh added that his clients come to "decompress from corporate America" and find that the Four Winds gives them something else to do.
Also, unexpectedly say local officials, the Four Winds has become a focal point for day-trippers. A travel and tour company in Battle Creek has begun offering daily excursions to the casino, an activity that has become very popular "with the senior set."
"Right now," says John Miller, tribal chairman of the Dowagiac-based tribe, "we’re in discussions with our tribal government and our managing partner, Lakes Entertainment, and we’re deciding exactly what we want to do in the next phase. Business has been so strong that an expansion is in the works."