Kenosha casino development deal likely

Menominee reportedly to announce deal with Hard Rock Thursday

BY BILL GUIDA
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bguida@kenoshanews.com

The Menominee tribe reportedly has a deal with Hard Rock International to develop and manage the tribe’s proposed $800 million Kenosha casino complex.

Online Milwaukee media outlets, citing three unnamed sources, reported the deal Wednesday, but Menominee tribal officials refused to show their cards.

Eric Olson, the tribe’s Kenosha project director, said the Menominee will hold be a press conference at noon today at Dairyland Greyhound Park, the proposed casino site.

“All I can say is, there’s credibility to the reports,” Olson said. “We have people coming in from a major corporation. I can tell you it’s a major announcment, a huge deal to have these folks on.”

Olson said he could not comment beyond that and declined to confirm whether by “these folks” he was referring to Hard Rock International, which has been owned since 2007 by the Florida-based Seminole tribe. Since then, the Seminole tribe and Hard Rock International have developed casinos and hotels in Florida and several other states.

Menominee Chairman Craig Corn, who expects to be on hand for the announcment today, chuckled when reached by phone, saying he could neither “confirm nor deny” the purported partnership until after the press conference.

Mayor mum

Mayor Keith Bosman likewise played his cards close to the vest, citing the potential developer’s request for confidentiality.

Bosman compared the situation to giant e-commerce retailer Amazon requesting such confidentiality as the tenant for a $1.5 million distribution center to be built as part of a 165-acre commercial development in a city-owned business park at I-94 and Highway N.

“I would hate to have a developer walk for lack of confidentiality. I’ll be happy to comment (today) at 12:30. I would say, if that’s true (the reported deal), it’s a great thing,” said Bosman, who also plans to attend today’s press conference.

While Seminole and Menominee officials declined comment Wednesday, the Menominee have scheduled a special meeting tonight for tribal members under the heading “Kenosha Project Announcement.” In addition, the Internet domain name “Hardrockkenosha.com” has been reserved since Sept. 16, according to domain-tracking website Whois.com.

Renewed credibility

The management/development deal could give the Menominee casino proposal renewed credibility with financial markets and the public, according to Frank Fantini, CEO of the Fantini Gaming Report, who was quoted in one online report saying Hard Rock has “a great reputation” internationally and “would give immediate visibility to the casino in Kenosha.”

An unnamed source in one published report said the tribe has been talking to the Hard Rock/Seminole and other gaming companies for several months because the Menominee had to reach a deal and couldn’t continue on their own.

The source said cited the Hard Rock group bringing gaming and marketing expertise to the project. Hard Rock International lists 174 venues in 54 countries, including 138 cafes, 17 hotels and seven casinos.

Other hurdles

The Menominee, who continue to seek Gov. Scott Walker’s approval for their massive casino complex plan at the Dairyland site on 52nd Stree just east of I-94, has been searching for a developer since mid-2009, when the Connecticut-based Mohegan tribe backed out of its development and management for the proposed casino. Under that contract, however, the Menominee would still owe the Mohegan about $12 million if the casino gets built.

On Aug. 23, the U.S. Department of Interior approved the Menominee application to turn the Dairyland property into tribal land so a casino could be built there.

However, Walker holds the trump card, saying he would only approve the Kenosha casino if the state’s 10 other tribes gave it a unanimous OK.

It is uncertain whether the purported Seminole/Hard Rock deal will sway the Forest County Potawatomi, the Ho-Chunk and the Oneida, all of whom own and operate casinos and have to date refused to endorse the Menominee’s casino project in Kenosha.

The Potawatomi fear it would cost them about one-third of the revenue from their Milwaukee casino, and they have poured millions of dollars into print and broadcast ad campaigns fighting the Menominee’s efforts.

That means Walker’s unusually high standard for approving the project is likely to come up craps for the Menominee, who have been pushing for an off-reservation casino here since the 1990s.

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