Raquel Buari leads Four Winds Casino’s compliance team as its vice president, supporting the business as it enables her tribe’s ability to fund schools, court systems, healthcare, and housing for the sovereign nation of the Potawatomi people. As a proud member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Buari understands just how much of an impact her work has every single day.
“I’m not sure that many realize and respect that sovereign nations are no different than a state that is looking to raise revenues to support state citizens,” Buari explains. “We have so much to fund while at the same time, because of historical traumas and massive healthcare disparities, we have a citizenry that needs a great deal of additional assistance than the general public.”
The tribe’s sovereign nation status can, unfortunately, provide significant challenges both internally and externally, adds the VP, who is also an attorney.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony in March 2023 celebrated the opening of the new Cedar Spa and 317-room hotel at Four Winds’ South Bend, Indiana, location. This was the first spa opening on tribal lands; health and safety codes needed to be amended while regulatory requirements and licensing framework had to be redeveloped by the attorneys for her tribe and implemented by Buari and team.
With the build, they ran into some obstacles, one being that the spa consultant wasn’t familiar with tribal regulations and assumed application of state law.
“The consultant did not realize that those state guidelines don’t apply to tribal land,” Buari recalls. “It gets a little challenging when you’re working with a vendor that is unfamiliar with tribal regulations.”
Another example of a challenge the team encountered was that when trying to secure alcohol for the hotel and restaurant amenities, the licensed distributors were unwilling to sell to an organization who did not hold a state-issued purchasing permit.
The tribe was essentially forced to secure a state liquor purchasing permit, even though that permit is functionally useless on Pokagon land and the Pokagon Band Gaming Commission is the sole regulator of alcohol on Pokagon lands. However, sometimes the tribe must make the best out of a difficult situation.
“In many cases, our tribal regulations are more strict and more heavily involved than the regulations we’re being asked to comply with,” Buari explains. “I think there can be a perceived arrogance around what others see as a small group of citizens going their own way. It can be frustrating, but in reality, it is the compliance of laws and regulations governed by our sovereign nation, and we know it’s part of the process.”
Despite those hurdles, the twenty-three-floor hotel, spa, banquet space, and other amenities opened in March as planned. Buari is used to finding success in the toughest circumstances.
Buari’s multiracial parents didn’t have the benefit of post-secondary education, but Buari worked through a prelaw degree at Ball State University. When she became pregnant in her last semester of college, her mother started driving in twice a week to babysit while Buari went to class.
While the near graduate was interning with Four Winds’ legal affairs department, an attorney from the team was so impressed that they asked her to formally join the company. Buari took the job and a year later began attending part-time at Valparaiso University School of Law and continued to work full time. Eventually, discouraged with how elongated the process had become, she scaled back on her work schedule to finish law school as a full-time student and graduated in 2013.
“I’m grateful for what this organization has been willing to do for me so I could continue my education and be a mother that was able to provide for my child,” Buari says. “Every step of the way, they have supported my journey.”
Along with both her VP role and full-time job as a mother of four, Buari also devotes a great deal of herself to nonprofit board work. The VP is a board member of the National Council on Problem Gambling based in Washington, DC. The Problem Gambling-related nonprofit work is a part of her job that she finds very fulfilling.
“One of the social responsibilities I believe the casino industry has is to ensure that the guests enjoying what is supposed to be an entertaining activity are doing so responsibly and not running the risk of making it a detriment to their lives,” she explains. “That’s not what we want for our patrons.”
Buari’s husband, who is also an attorney, is incredibly active in his own board service outside of his job, so the pairing is perfect for today’s power couple. As the VP continues her own legal journey while growing into new roles and responsibilities, she remains committed to her tribe and her community. It’s been there for her when she needed it, and she’ll never hesitate to do the same.