SHABBONA - The federal government is the only entity that can stop the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation from opening a bingo hall on 128 acres in rural Shabbona, a DeKalb County attorney said Thursday. “If the land is in reservation status, they have the right to use the land as they choose,” Dennis Whittlesey, an attorney for DeKalb County, said Thursday. “The only body that can interfere is the federal government.” During a town meeting Thursday at Indian Creek High School, residents from Shabbona and elsewhere in DeKalb County mostly expressed disappointment at the possibility of the bingo hall opening in the area. “Moving ahead with the bingo hall will make it difficult to argue about future gaming on this property,” Shabbona resident Bill Roseen said. “It could be something we regret. This is big-money gaming that's not going to stop with a bingo hall.” The disputed land at University and Preserve roads, just east of Shabbona, is claimed as reservation land by the tribe. But it's not clear from the historical record whether it had been abandoned by the tribe more than 100 years ago or if later treaties canceled out the reservation. DeKalb County State's Attorney Ron Matekaitis said at the meeting that he sent a letter on Wednesday to federal officials to get a declaration on whether the land is a reservation. According to Whittlesey, there is no set time for when the county will hear back from the government. County board members and officials, as well as representatives of the Potawatomi tribe, tried to clarify whether the land where the tribe would like to build is a reservation. Tribal Chairwoman Tracy Stanhoff said the Potawatomi do not want to interfere with life in the village or Shabbona Lake State Park, which is adjacent to the site. “We don't have a lot of money, but what we have, we earned by taking care of our community,” Stanhoff said. “We've been held back from pursuing the American dream. Let's be good neighbors. Help us work through this. We know of other problems in this community like trash trucks and trains that run all hours of the night.” Stanhoff and Whittlesey pointed out that the tribe had the option to go to court and chose instead to try to discuss the matter with the county and residents. Pastor Jim Allen from the Shabbona United Church of Christ said people feel anxious and unaware of the entire situation as it progresses. He recommended posting material on the Internet to keep people abreast of the situation. Matekaitis agreed with Allen. “There is a danger in circulating something that is incomplete, and it's judged before being in its final form,” said Matekaitis. “When something is complete we can post it, such as the letter I sent. There's a possibility of posting a fact sheet outlining some of the things we've discussed tonight as well.” Another issue that arose during the meeting was whether the tribe would be paying any taxes on revenue earned at the bingo hall. Stanhoff said the tribe would organize funds to be paid out to the area in lieu of taxes. “I think the tribe has been real neighborly,” said DeKalb resident Mac McIntyre. “What concerns me is that we've become sidetracked by the gambling issue when really we must talk to stay neighborly.” Stanhoff said after the meeting that the tribe will take into account what neighbors expressed about the effect a bingo hall might have on the quiet aspects of a rural area. “We know what it's like to have a home, land and deep roots,” said Stanhoff. “There's a whole team of people here tonight to make sure the concerns people raised will factor into our discussions.” Benji Feldheim can be reached at email@example.com.
Getting Answers: Bingo hall in hands of federal government
Get breaking and town-specific news sent to your phone. Sign up for text alerts from the Daily Chronicle.