Feds approve Kenosha casino proposal; Walker to have final say

BY JOE POTENTE
jpotente@kenoshanews.com

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The Menominee Nation today received federal approval for its Kenosha casino proposal, a project spokesman said.

Evan Zeppos confirmed that tribal Chairman Craig Corn has received written confirmation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ approval.

That kicks the project to Gov. Scott Walker, who has the ultimate authority to approve or deny it.

Walker, in a prepared statement, said he will evaluate the application using the criteria that he has laid out previously: Namely, that the project results in no new net gaming in the state, has community support and there is consensus among the state’s 11 tribes.

Corn celebrated the long-anticipated federal ruling.

“The federal decision tees up 3,300-plus new, good-paying jobs for Wisconsin; more than $35 million in new state revenue annually; more than $19 million in new annual revenue for local governments and schools; and an economically self-sufficient future for a very poor Wisconsin tribe,” Corn said in a prepared statement.

The current iteration of the project has been in the works since 2004, when 56 percent of Kenosha County voters favored it in a nonbinding referendum.

The $800 million proposal calls for a series of phases that, when built out fully, would include 3,100 slot machines, 75 blackjack tables, a 5,000-square-foot entertainment venue, a 400-room hotel, a conference center and nearly 50,000 square feet of retail space.

All of this would be built on the former site of Dairyland Greyhound Park, which has been shuttered since racing ended in December 2009.

State Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Somers, a longtime proponent of the casino, said he was thrilled to learn of today’s decision.

“If approved, this is an $800 million project that’s going to create thousands of jobs in southeastern Wisconsin, and this is a great day for job seekers in our area,” Wirch said. “I walk the neighborhoods and I see all the people out there that are either unemployed or underemployed, and this could be just a bonanza of jobs.”

Walker’s approval is not a sure thing, however.

The governor has said his rulings on any off-reservation casino applications that cross his desk would be dependent on whether there is a consensus among the state’s 11 tribes. That’s a long shot for the Menominee, as the Forest County Potawatomi — operators of an off-reservation casino in Milwaukee — have been vocal opponents of the Kenosha proposal.

“The Forest County Potawatomi Community remains steadfast in opposition to this Kenosha casino application,” Jeff Crawford, Potawatomi attorney general, said in a statement released this afternoon. “Kenosha is squarely within federally recognized ceded territory of the Potawatomi. In addition, this Kenosha casino application has been plagued with scandal and controversy and will result in sending tens of millions to out-of-state interests at the expense of Milwaukee. We will likely protect our rights through litigation should it come to that.”

The Menominee, in Corn’s statement, made an appeal to Walker’s past campaign promises — in particular, the governor’s overtures about job creation.

“Gov. Walker’s approval will push Wisconsin closer to his goal of 250,000 new jobs, promote free-market competition and consumer choice and demonstrate the Badger State is open for business,” Corn said.

Walker said he will move forward with a 60-day comment-gathering period for the tribes.

“My administration will begin reaching out to tribal representatives ahead of the beginning of the comment period to ensure all of the tribes have the opportunity to provide feedback,” Walker’s statement said.

Menominee officials are expected to comment further at a news conference in Milwaukee this evening.

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