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Feds Hear Pros And Cons of Shabbona Gambling Complex

Supporters and opponents of a proposed gambling complex in southern DeKalb County turned out Tuesday for a meeting with federal officials. It was the first step in a long study of how 24-hour bingo parlors will affect the village of Shabbona.

Credit Susan Stephens
Susan Stephens
Area near Shabbona owned by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation

  The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation has been working for years to reclaim land once owned by Chief Shab-eh-nay: it was taken by the federal government in a treaty. The Kansas-based tribe already runs a casino near Topeka. It ended up buying 129 acres adjacent to state and county nature preserves near Shabbona. It plans to open a 24 hour bingo facility, but need approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs first. The first step is an environmental impact study, which started with a public input session at Kishwaukee College. Tribal council member Thomas Wabnum was one of more than 30 speakers. He says “Our reservation was illegally sold. Approval of our trust application would right this historic wrong.”

Business leaders, politicians, and people in the building trades also spoke in favor of the facility. Shabbona-area residents, anti-gambling groups, and nature-lovers were among those opposing the plan. Suzanne Billman of Waterman wanted to know why it couldn’t be built on open land instead of bordering a county forest preserve.

“People, have you ever noticed how little natural beauty there is in this region? Very few open areas in this region are woodsy, watery, or prairie.”

Beth Hanson’s family has farmed in Shabbona for eight generations. She says she wants the best for her hometown, but is afraid the Class Two gambling facility isn’t going to help the community as much as some think:

“I see busloads of people in my mind being taken to the casino. They have no car, so they can’t get to Shabbona to spend their money. So I don’t think the benefits outweigh the negatives that come with a casino environment.”

Other local residents are more interested in the money that would pour into the community through hundreds of construction jobs, tourism, and the 400 jobs promised by the Potawatomi Nation.

Anti-gambling activist Kathy Gilroy needs more proof of the benefits, especially financially. She says “ten Illinois casinos have not helped the financial condition of the state of Illinois. In fact, casinos are complaining their revenues are declining because of a glut of video gambling machines in bars and restaurants.”

Denny Sands is an Illinois Outdoors Hall of Famer and runs the bait shop at Shabbona Lake.

“Other towns would fight very hard to have this opportunity. We should fight very, very hard to make this a reality.”

No matter how the federal government ends up ruling on the bingo proposal, there won’t be gambling any time soon. It’s going to take one and a half to two years to complete the environmental impact study, followed by more public comment opportunities. Meanwhile, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs continues to takecomments from the public through its website.

Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.
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