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Spectacular Four Winds Casino Resort Opens in New Buffalo, Michigan;
May Give Detroit Casinos a Run for the Money
By Heather Newman, Detroit Free PressMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

August 1, 2007 - A gigantic new casino is poised to appear in the southwest corner of the state, attracting day-trippers and resorters from Detroit, Indiana and Chicago.

It has more gaming space than Detroit's casinos, a woodsy, luxury lodge ambience, and will have a permanent hotel up and running before any of Detroit's gambling houses.

The Four Winds Casino Resort is to open today for news media tours and to the public at noon Thursday just off Exit 1 of I-94 near New Buffalo. It is one of three new casino locations expected to open in Michigan cities in the next year or two.

"Absolutely beautiful. First class," said construction worker Bernie Marshall, 50, of Mill Creek, Ind., as he cleaned windows on the outside of the hotel recently.

The impact on Detroit's casinos will be hard to measure. All three claim some out-state, Indiana and Illinois traffic as part of their customer base; due to competitive reasons, they are unwilling to say exactly how much. But those day-trippers may find that the sight of Four Winds' stone and heavy wood buildings -- tucked into a mostly natural, 675-acre wooded estate a scant mile or two from the big lake -- may be enough to get them exiting the expressway early.

"It's going to be spectacular," project director Matt Harkness said. Four Winds, which is owned by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and run by Lakes Entertainment Inc., will include 130,000 square feet of gaming space, 3,000 slot machines, 110 table games -- including poker -- six restaurants and a 165-room suite hotel.

That makes Four Winds' gambling space the second largest in Michigan -- after that of the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant -- and it is more convenient for some people to reach.

Three smaller projects are expected to pass the last legislative and legal hurdles to open in the next year or two: one by the Gun Lake Band of Pottawatomi in Wayland Township south of Grand Rapids; the Firekeepers Casino near Battle Creek, run by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi; and a satellite operation of the Soaring Eagle Casino in Standish.

Area business owners and convention officials are cautiously optimistic about the tourists the Four Winds project may bring from Chicago, Indiana and elsewhere in Michigan.

"My hope is that the people who come up to game will get out and see the area," said Sara Crapo, director of marketing and special projects for the West Michigan Tourist Association. Given that the casino is on the outskirts of New Buffalo -- a traditional Michigan lake town with a tiny, quaint main street that appears to slope directly into Lake Michigan -- she said she hopes it won't have too much impact on the feel of the town.

"It's putting the New Buffalo area on the map," said Pam Sudlow, executive director of the Harbor Country Chamber of Commerce. She said the casino is expected to bring in 4.5 million visitors a year.

So far, those most worried about the project have been area business owners who have lost employees to the casino, she said. The casino has hired 2,500 people, many of whom have had to be placed outside the area because there are not enough places for them to live near New Buffalo.

The "vast majority" of the hires have been local, Harkness said, meaning there are openings all over town.

Right now, most of the casino's hotel rooms are reserved for "comped" customers, who stay for free to play. Some rooms are for sale online at www.fourwindscasino.com.

The hotel's construction and decor are woodsy enough to fit into the natural surroundings, but the focus is on luxury, he said. Earth tones dominate the design, with natural wood, granite and marble finishes. Suites have soffited ceilings, and some come with water walls. The linens are 300-plus thread count Egyptian cotton, and most of the hotel's rooms are 1 1/2 -room suites.

A promenade that leads from the parking garage to the hotel will have four luxury retail shops selling jewelry and clothing on one side with the casino on the other. It is built to echo a traditional Native-American long house, he said, with birch wood overhead and granite floors.

The hotel will include the Copper Rock Steakhouse, a luxury white-tablecloth establishment dominated by the 8,600-pound, desk-sized piece of Michigan flow copper (one of the largest ever found) on a pedestal at its entrance and swimm, a seafood and modern-eclectic menu restaurant.

Contact HEATHER NEWMAN at 313-223-3336 or hnewman@freepress.com.

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Copyright (c) 2007, Detroit Free Press

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