By Ariele Vaccaro
Years of effort by the Menominee Tribe to erect a casino in Kenosha came to an abrupt and fruitless end on Friday, Jan. 23. Gov. Scott Walker killed the project with four weeks to spare on a deadline extension — one that he requested — to make the decision.
Word of the day in Menominee and Racine counties: disappointment.
Walker argued that to build the casino could risk leaving Wisconsin taxpayers stuck with the Forest County Potawatomi Tribe’s compact — a 2005 agreement that former Gov. Doyle made, promising to reimburse the tribe for any revenue losses that might occur in the event that another casino pops up in the area.
“The Potawatomi own Milwaukee’s Potawatomi Hotel and Casino.
It’s the largest casino in Wisconsin. For fear of losing business, the tribe has made expensive, pointed efforts to squash the Menominee’s attempt to create it’s own casino.
And that’s only the tip of this suddenly melting iceberg.
On Thursday, Jan. 22, The Menominee offered to keep taxpayers from footing the bill for Potawatomi’s losses by way of a brand new compact — this time, between the state and the Menominee. Rather than the state paying for the reimbursement, Menominee would pay Potawatomi one billion dollars over the course of 25 years.
For Walker, this was not a certain enough guarantee. The following day, he made his decision.
The governor had enlisted Nathan Associates, an economic firm, to conduct a study that would determine whether or not the casino was too risky an endeavor.
From the study was born 111 pages of intricate figures, from how many slot machines the new casino would have as compared to one Ho-Chunk Casino, to how much revenue the new casino was likely to take from other Wisconsin casinos. The report asserts that a Kenosha Hard Rock Casino would take away as much as $15.2 million from Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk casinos in 2019 — the point at which the new one would have its “first stabilized year of operations”.
That might explain the Potawatomi and Ho- Chunk’s excessive sweating.
It may be worth mentioning that parts of the report are redacted.
In other words, a Sharpie has black out some information.
This could have been done for a number of reasons, however, such as to protect certain data from other Wisconsin casinos.
So, knowing that a Kenosha casino could, in fact, tear profits away from already established casinos that would come to the state for reimbursement, Walker made the decision not to risk it.
Though Walker may feel that he’s saved the taxpayers from a possible bill, he’s also snuffed out what could have been a huge opportunity for job growth.
According to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s webpage dedicated what would have been the corporation’s next development endeavor, the new casino would have created “nearly 3,000 new jobs”.
That’s a big deal for Menominee Co., the location of the Menominee Reservation where the 10.3 percent unemployment rate is nearly double the state’s 5.2 percent average.
Racine County, where the proposed casino would have been built, sports a high unemployment rate as well: 6.1 percent.
“These are among the poorest communities in the state,” said Beightol.
According to Beightol, the Menominee face a number of issues as direct or indirect results of poverty. Poor health is one.
Menominee Co. ranked dead last, seventy-second, in the University of Wisconsin’s 2014 County Health Rankings.
Hard Rock International has had a hand in the possible casino since Oct. of 2013, when the company became the casino’s official developer.
“We believe Hard Rock and Menominee stepped up to every challenge and then some. This is terribly sad news for the nearly 9,000 members of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin,” said Jim Allen, Chairman of Hard Rock International.
The rejection caught some of the potential casino’s advocates by surprise.
“It’s very difficult to accept this decision,” said Michael Beightol, Spokesperson for Kenosha Projects.
Menominee Tribe officials and Kenosha government leaders made little effort to hide their shock and dismay.
Laurie Boivin, Menominee Tribe Chairwoman released a statement shortly after the project’s rejection, and said, “It is with great disappointment that I relay the message that Governor Walker has said no to our Kenosha Casino proposal.
It is our belief that this project would have improved the lives of the nearly 9000 members of the Tribe.”
State Representative Peter Barca has lived in Kenosha for his entire life.
He took to social media soon after the news to express his strong disagreement with the governor’s decision.
“Walker’s rejection of the Menominee casino project in Kenosha is an economic mistake of colossal proportions,” said Barca via Twitter on Jan. 23.
The Menominee might agree.
The tribe as well as the city of Kenosha had a lot to lose, or to gain. Whichever way you’d like to look at it.
Either way, the tribe is not about to throw up its hands just yet.
According to Beightol, the tribe is looking into other ways to make the vision tangible.
In the meantime, Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk casinos remain largely unchallenged, and the Menominee remain trapped in the oppressive grip of poverty.