Menominee believe they’ve satisfied Walker’s casino requirements

BY JOE WARD
jward@kenoshanews.com
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MADISON — Menominee Nation and Hard Rock International officials are hopeful that their proposal to build a casino and entertainment center in Kenosha — including financial incentives for other casino-operating tribes — will earn them the support of Gov. Scott Walker.

After submitting their proposal packet to Walker on Tuesday, Menominee and Hard Rock representatives met with the governor for more than an hour Wednesday in Madison.

The tribe and Walker spoke on the benefits of a casino in what the Menominee called a $3.8 billion untapped southeastern Wisconsin market, and also discussed how to mitigate potential losses for tribes that operate nearby casinos.

The Menominee have offered to pay 12 percent of the Kenosha casino’s net revenue to the state, a figure that is well over the 7.5 percent required of the tribe under its gaming compact with the state. The increased payment proposal, if accepted by the governor, could send $50 million to other state tribes over four years.

Tribal Chairman Craig Corn said he is confident the Menominee have met Walker’s criteria for project approval, and that they are looking forward to further dialogue with the governor’s office this week. Walker has said he would likely make a decision by Friday.

“It’s a historic day for Menominee, a historic day for Wisconsin,” Corn said at a press conference near the state Capitol. “The meeting went well with the governor; he was very receptive. We look forward to following up with the governor.”

Meeting Walker’s criteria

Walker has said he would only approve the casino if: there is unanimous support from the state’s 10 other tribes, there is local support for the project and no new net gaming in the state would occur.

Menominee officials have garnered the support of eight Wisconsin tribes.

The Forest County Potawatomi and the Ho-Chunk Nation are the lone holdouts. Both are worried that an additional casino in the state would cause financial harm to their respective casinos in Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Dells.

There is language in the Potawatomi compact with the state that says if a casino were to open within 50 miles of the tribe’s Milwaukee establishment, the tribe would be allowed to reduce its tax bill to the state or receive a refund on payments to the state.

“We have stated to the governor that we will backstop any loss of profit, not revenue, profit to those tribes,” said Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen.

According to the Menominee proposal, the Potawatomi casino in Milwaukee could lose $18 million in profit within a year of the Kenosha casino’s opening. Within four years, though, the tribe will return to 99 percent of its historical profit levels, the study said.

Because the Ho-Chunk casino in Wisconsin Dells is more than two hours from the Kenosha casino, the Menominee proposal said effects to the Ho-Chunk’s operation would be very marginal.

Opposition remains

The Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi on Wednesday said they are still in opposition to the proposal, with the Potawatomi saying the deal with Hard Rock International — owned by the Seminole Nation in Florida — is a bad deal for taxpayers.

“The Potawatomi cannot support this Kenosha casino application because of the corruption associated with it and the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be sent to the out-of-state gambling interests invested in the project,” said Potawatomi spokesman Ken Walsh in a statement.

As for the state’s eight other tribes, Corn said they signed on to the project without requiring financial incentives.

“They didn’t ask for anything in return,” Corn said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do as tribes, to help each other out. This is one sovereign nation trying to benefits its members.”

Net gaming not an issue

Officials said the requirement of no net increase in gaming was not a topic of discussion at Wednesday’s meeting with the governor because the matter has already been settled.

Because gambling occurred at Dairyland Greyhound Park before it closed down in 2009, Corn said putting a casino on the site would not increase net gaming. And if that doesn’t satisfy the governor’s needs, Corn said the Menominee are willing to give up one of its two gaming licenses being used at sites on the tribe’s reservation.

Support for the casino from the Kenosha community is also a non-issue, Corn said, as both the city and county have passed resolutions in favor of the project.

Benefits stressed

Project officials are confident that a Hard Rock entertainment center in Kenosha would benefit all of the state.

It would bring about about $42 million to tax coffers in the first year alone, including $28 million for the state and $12 million more would go to local municipalities, according to materials the tribe presented to Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday.

The Menominee would also net $60 million in the casino’s first year of operation, and earn about $100 million in year five.

Officials are promising Hard Rock Kenosha would be a success. They said there is between $2 billion and $3.9 billion in potential, untapped gaming business in the Chicago-area market before saturation occurs, and that many of the casino’s patrons would come from neighboring Illinois.

“We want to create a destination that truly becomes something of a must-see, not just for Wisconsin, but for the millions of people who live just seven miles away in Illinois,” Allen said. “We think the market is not just strong enough for the existing Potawatomi casino and Ho-Chunk casino, but we also think this project can create some tremendous benefits to the state and all three tribes.”

The Illinois General Assembly has contemplated dramatically expanding gaming in that state by up to five new casinos, including sites in downtown Chicago and the northern suburbs. Kenosha project officials are hoping to have approval of their proposal before any rival casinos in Illinois get off the ground.

The proposed Kenosha Hard Rock is estimated to bring 5,000 new jobs to the area, on top of a $13 million annual tax bill to the county and city.

The Menominee have also offered to make a $1.5 million annual donation to the Kenosha Unified School District and a $5 million, one-time contribution to establish trust funds to support Kenosha museums, local services for the homeless and other area cultural and charitable needs.

Waiting for approval

It is not likely the two holdout tribes will lend their support prior to a decision by the governor. Corn said the governor gave no indication of which way he’ll rule, but said the tribe is hopeful he will approve the project.

A statement released by the governor’s office said only that the governor and Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch met with the tribe to review the proposal, and that the governor is expected to make his decision by the end of the week.

Hard Rock’s Allen told reporters he could not stay in Madison too long on Wednesday. He had a plane to catch that afternoon, but answered the media’s questions alongside Corn after the press conference wrapped up. Then he told Corn that he had to make his way to the airport.

“I’m praying,” he told Corn.

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