Politics & Government
11:03 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Walker Says He'll Take His Time Making Kenosha Casino Decision

An artist's rendition of the proposed Hard Rock Cafe and casino complex in Kenosha
An artist's rendition of the proposed Hard Rock Cafe and casino complex in Kenosha
Credit WATG

Gov. Scott Walker said he won’t cave in to pressure, as southeastern Wisconsin leaders called on him to immediately approve a huge tribal casino.

The Menominee tribe wants to build an $810 million Hard Rock complex at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha. The federal government signed off on the proposal a year ago, and Walker has until Feb. 19 to make a decision.

News this week about another tribe brought the issue back to life. Walker told legislators that the Potawatomi Tribe is withholding payments. It’s supposed to regularly pay the state millions of dollars, in exchange for operating a casino in Milwaukee. But tribal leaders say the casino the governor is considering 30 miles to the south, would devastate their business. So, for now, they’re not making a payment.

The Ho Chunk Nation also remains opposed to the Kenosha proposal. That’s despite the fact that Walker says his administration has reached a financial agreement with the Ho Chunk, in the event that the tribe’s gaming operation is harmed by a Kenosha casino. One year ago, Walker said he won’t approve the casino complex, unless it has the support of all of Wisconsin’s 11 tribes.

It was against the backdrop of the Potawatomi’s refusal to make its payment that Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha urged the governor to approve the Menomonee Nation’s plan.

“Where is the urgency? If I had a potential and I think any of the legislators, where we would change positions with the governor and we had the possibility as the chief executive to bring this proportion of jobs, this volume of business to Wisconsin, I would think this would be priority number one,” Barca says.

Barca also mentioned the fact that the governor is falling well short of his promise to create 250,000 jobs.

Another Kenosha Democrat, state Sen. Bob Wirch, thinks the governor is too politically busy, to address the casino issue.

“He’s in the middle of a campaign. We don’t want to get lost in the shuffle. He should have been actively bringing the parties together a year ago, after he got the BIA approval. The governor is dealing with sovereign nations, we understand that. But, he has a lot of power and this all should have been done a year ago,” Wirch says.

Wirch criticized the governor for paying a Michigan law firm $1.5 million to study the casino issue, and there are still no results.

We caught up with Walker in New Berlin Wednesday. He says he’s going to take his time making a decision. Walker says the state is pouring through complex compacts former governor Jim Doyle set up with the tribes in 2005. The state must reimburse them for any losses they incur from new casinos. Walker says in the case of the Potawatomi, reimbursement could top $100 million.

“The last thing we want to do is sign off on a project there that would cause a hole as big as $100 million or more in the coming state budget and I think even those who support it would understand that makes sense, you don’t want a hole of that size in the state budget,” Walker says.

Walker says he intends to use the entire amount of time he’s been given to make his decision: 18 months. The clock started ticking a year ago.

“They took nine years at the federal level, we’re taking 18 months, which any governor is legally entitled to,” Walker says.

Walker says his administration secretary, Mike Huebsch, has been working on the issue for the past year. The governor says Huebsch has been meeting with the tribes, special counsel and economists, in an effort to come up with a position that is “a win for the state financially, a win for the tribal nations involved and a win for the state’s economy – in Kenosha and beyond.”

Meanwhile, as lawmakers weighed in on the Kenosha casino proposal, a new poll showed big support for the plan. The Marquette University Law School survey released Wednesday says 49 percent of respondents approve of the casino proposal, while 35 percent are opposed.