Walker: Casino needs all tribes’ support


Updated:

BY JOE POTENTE
jpotente@kenoshanews.com

Gov. Scott Walker gave greater clarity Monday to the guidelines he has set for his prospective review of off-reservation casinos in Kenosha and elsewhere, and Kenosha project backers didn’t like what he had to say.

The bottom line for the Menominee Nation, which is awaiting federal review of its Kenosha application:

— Final approval from the governor won’t happen without an end to opposition from the rival Potawatomi Tribe.

— The tribe would likely have to close its on-reservation casino in Keshena before it could open an off-reservation development in Kenosha.

Walker enumerated his position in an interview with Kenosha News editors and reporters.

In doing so, Walker outlined what he acknowledged is “a high bar” for the Menominee and other Wisconsin tribes that are looking to add to the state’s roster of gambling houses.

Under federal law, Walker would have the final say on the Kenosha application, if it receives a positive recommendation from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Menominee officials say a ruling from Washington could come soon, possibly by the end of January.

Consensus means ‘yes’ from 11 tribes

Most notably, Walker said consensus among the state’s tribes — one of the three criteria he has referenced in the past — would mean approval from all 11 of the state’s tribes.

That runs contrary to Menominee Nation Craig Corn’s previous contention, based on an earlier statement by a Walker administration official, that one tribe would not be able to effectively veto the Kenosha application.

The Potawatomi, operators of an off-reservation casino in Milwaukee, have consistently opposed the Menominee proposal. Walker said the Menominee and Potawatomi would have to reach some sort of understanding for the Kenosha application to meet that criterion, should it reach Walker’s desk.

“I’m trying to deal with a bar that says beyond gaming, just how am I going to find a way to not have constant feuding with all the tribal governments, when it comes to other issues that we’re dealing with,” Walker said. “Which is why we set that condition early on.”

Corn, in a telephone interview, said he was surprised and disappointed to hear of Walker’s view, which he said differs from what he was told in a meeting with Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch in August.

One-for-one swap

The Menominee chairman was similarly disappointed with a Walker statement Monday, that the opening of any new gambling facility would need to be accompanied by the closure of another.

Walker said his position is based on a 1993 statewide referendum, in which voters favored limiting the expansion of gambling in Wisconsin.

For the Menominee, the application of such a rule would likely involve closing the Keshena casino it has operated since the advent of tribal gambling in the late 1980s. Over the years, the tribe has stated intent to continue operating the Keshena facility along with Kenosha.

Asked whether the Kenosha proposal would have to be scaled back to the size of the smaller Keshena facility to meet his criterion, Walker was less clear.

“That one’s a little harder, just because the referendum didn’t specify,” Walker said. “For us, we’ve kind of set out those terms. We’d have to look more closely at it.”

Corn said the tribe had believed Kenosha language in its existing casino compact with the state would be sufficient for the Menominee project to meet Walker’s criterion.

“That’s news to us, too,” Corn said. “It’s just sad that we have to get this information secondhand.”

Walker’s third criterion — that a new casino enjoy the support of the community where it is to be located — is the least of the Menominee Tribe’s worries, as the project won the support of 56 percent of Kenosha County voters in a 2004 referendum.

Potawatomi remain opposed

If Potawatomi approval will be needed for Walker to sign off on the Kenosha casino, it would appear an agreement is not close at hand.

Corn said the Menominee have made seven overtures to the Potawatomi to join the Kenosha project in some form, and all were rebuffed.

The Potawatomi, in a statement released Monday, did not indicate an agreement is close at hand.

“The off-reservation casino project currently being considered by the Menominee is riddled with a history of scandal and corruption and has come with many strings attached,” wrote George Ermert, a spokesman for the tribe.

“For years, the Potawatomi have told the Menominee that they will not get involved with this project because of these factors — yet the Menominee continue to bring the same project to the Potawatomi for consideration.”

Corn said perhaps Walker could help broker an agreement between the tribes.

Regardless, he said the Menominee will continue to push for the Kenosha venture, various incarnations of which date back to 1998.

“I’m just really frustrated that these criteria had to come out in the news,” Corn said. “I wish they would have had some respect for the tribe and contacted us and let us know.

“The tribe’s spending millions of dollars on this project, and you get one opinion from the secretary of administration and you get another from the governor, and nobody wants to talk about it. It’s just not fair. It’s frustrating.”

Walker’s casino criteria

Gov. Scott Walker’s three self-imposed criteria for off-reservation casino approvals, and where the Menominee Nation’s Kenosha casino proposal stands:

The casino has local support.

Not a particular problem for the Menominee, as 56 percent of Kenosha County voters backed the casino in a November 2004 advisory referendum.

The state’s 11 sovereign tribes are in consensus in favor of the application.

This represents a challenge for the Menominee, as the Forest County Potawatomi Tribe has maintained opposition to the Kenosha casino.

The new casino does not represent a net increase in gambling in Wisconsin.

Walker suggested tribes would have to close an existing casino before opening a new one. In the case of the Menominee, that could mean having to close its on-reservation casino in Keshena to open one in Kenosha.

What’s next?

The Kenosha application would reach Walker’s desk for final approval if and when it receives a positive recommendation from the federal government. Menominee Chairman Craig Corn said that could happen by the end of January.

Walker on other issues

Gov. Scott Walker covered a range of issues during an interview Monday with the Kenosha News editorial board. Here’s what he had to say on a few topics.

On how he expects Wisconsin expects to look when he faces re-election in 2014:

“Hopefully it will continue on our path. Our whole goal with this next budget and the next legislative session is to create more jobs — help people in the state, that is, to create more jobs. So we’ll focus on creating more jobs, developing the work force, transforming education, doing more to reform government and doing more infrastructure investments. I think a couple years out from now, hopefully we see a substantial level of not only new jobs, but new small businesses. Because I think most of the jobs that we create in the next few years are going to come either from startups or from small businesses that grow.”

On his promise to create 250,000 jobs during his first four-year term in office:

“We’re still pushing for it. I still think it’s kind of like — I’ve got kids of my own, one in college and one in high school — I tell them I expect them to be on the honor roll. There can be all sorts of factors — it could be they’re out sick for two weeks, they could have something come up that’s challenging to them — but if I say, ‘Oh, I’m lowering my expectations,’ that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I still think just for the sake of all those families who lost work or work opportunities, I’m still aggressive.”

On Wisconsin pursuing right-to-work legislation, as Michigan lawmakers approved last week:

“The other day, someone asked me after Michigan what I think about right-to-work, and I said, ‘It doesn’t matter what I think.’ When I was in the Legislature, full disclosure, I supported it. I’m not flip-flopping on that. I’m just saying I looked at what happened with taking on an issue like that — and what happened not only recently with Michigan but what happened in Wisconsin with our Act 10 debate. I can’t have anything that adds that level of uncertainty to the employers in this state. I’m not only not for it, I’m going to do what I can to make sure nobody else pushes it through the Legislature, because I think that would be a huge distraction from our focuses.”

On his decision to allow the federal government to operate the health care exchange Wisconsin must offer under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act:

“By nature, my gut instinct tells me if I’ve got a choice between the federal government and me running it, I want to run it. States are always better at doing things than the federal government. The problem is I believe the state exchanges are ‘state’ in name only. And what I mean by that is the only true flexibility from any sort of substantive standpoint is I can go from having a handful of people running it to hundreds of people running it. The federal government will give you that flexibility. But in terms of what I cover, how I cover it, what’s involved with it, all of those things are ultimately restricted to the guidelines of the federal government. There is no flexibility for a state to say, ‘We want to do something unique to Wisconsin.’”

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