Potawatomis populated the shores of Lake Michigan as long ago as the sixteenth century, and while the tribe ceded most of its lands to the federal government in the early 1800s, the ancestors of the Forest County Potawatomis refused to leave the Great Lakes region. Their Milwaukee casino transformed a former industrial brownfield into a mixed-use urban space and reclaimed their historic place in this region. Profits from the casino fund tribal programs for housing, health care, education, day care, youth and elder services, and environmental protection.
After Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, many of Wisconsin’s Indian gaming facilities opened in steel-pole buildings thrown up next to reservation smoke shops. When the Forest County Potawatomis expanded the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, they asked Zimmerman Design of Milwaukee and Thalden Boyd, a Native American architectural firm in St. Louis, to create a building rich in cultural symbolism. Local Native Americans identity the Potawatomis as the “Keepers of the Sacred Fire,” so a flame crowns the casino’s exterior glass entrance tower, and flame motifs appear throughout the building. Ribbons of stepped masonry sheathing the three-level facility draw on woven design. The lobby’s Circle of Life multimedia sculpture reaches into the 100-foot glass tower banded by traditional designs. The casino’s main level, housing nearly two acres of gambling machines, incorporates designs based on Potawatomi beadwork and weaving, along with floral and woodland motifs. Decorative tree boughs and timbers crisscross the 75,000-square-foot ceiling to hide a network of security cameras that monitor gambling. The mezzanine level houses management facilities, and the second level houses the Nest of Life Bingo Hall and restaurants.