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Tuesday, 14 February 2012 09:35

Q&A: John Shagonaby

Written by  Kym Reinstadler
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Q&A: John Shagonaby PHOTO: Jeff Hage

Gun Lake Casino celebrates its first year of operation on Feb. 10. John Shagonaby, CEO of the Gun Lake Tribal Gaming Authority, talked with MiBiz about the tribe’s experience in that first year. Shagonaby, a 1997 graduate of the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University, spoke recently at the WMU Keystone Community Bank Breakfast Program. He served on the tribal council of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians for 12 years and has worked for the tribe 15 years.

What lessons did the tribe learn in the years leading up to the casino’s opening in 2011?

The most compelling lessons were patience and hard work, which are nothing new to this tribe. It was a lengthy process that started back in 2000. We ran into many things that were beyond our control. We had to persevere and build support for the project. We knew it was worth fighting for. We believed it would be transformative based on the experiences of other tribes that were using gaming as a driver of economic development.

How did gaming revenues in your first year measure up to expectations?

First-year revenues exceeded projections. We’re very happy where we’re at right now. Of course, the 83,000-square-foot casino we built is about half the size originally proposed. Plans were scaled back because of the credit market. Through December, we had paid out more than $10 million in state and local revenue sharing.

How did the West Michigan business community react to the casino opening?

The response was positive beyond our expectations. Seven area chambers of commerce supported us from the beginning: Allegan, Wayland, Barry County, Kalamazoo County, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber, the Dorr Business Association, Gun Lake Business Association. On opening night, the local business community surprised us by sending 400 roses.

Another tribe is pursuing a plan to open a casino in downtown Lansing.

Can you handle more competition?

The only thing I’m going to say about that is that our compact with the state of Michigan guarantees exclusivity in nine counties, including Ingham County, where Lansing is.

What if the state breaks that exclusivity agreement?

Governments can’t tax each other. We can’t tax the state of Michigan, and the state can’t tax us. We agreed to share revenues in the compact. If the state allows another casino in the nine-county area, then the tribe would be within its rights to cease revenue sharing with the state.

Will the Gun Lake Tribe speak out about the plans?

Two bands have gone on record against a Lansing casino. Whether Gun Lake does will be a tribal council decision, not my decision.

How do you plan to use gaming revenues to diversify the tribal economy?

Are there benefits you’re already seeing?

This is strategic planning we’re working through. No plan has been approved. Already the tribe now has a public works and public safety department we never had before. We’ve been able to expand member and elder services, and housing, environmental and health programs that were tied to federal grants. Best of all, we’re able to provide jobs – about 900 – which helps the tribe as well others in the area. The tribe has just over 400 members.

How long before a hotel crops up near the casino?

The tribe has no plans to move ahead with a hotel at this time. There is the Bay Pointe Inn in Gun Lake and a few other hotels close by.

How do you think the casino meshes with the broader West Michigan entertainment industry?

It’s an amenity that complements the lakes, parks and all the great things there are to do in cities like Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

Read 2189 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 August 2012 18:07

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