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Wisconsin Gov. has until Feb. 19 to choose sides on Kenosha Casino debate

When we think of Wisconsin, we think of picturesque landscapes surrounded by gorgeous lakes and flowing rivers. The culinary connoisseur in us thinks of effervescent cheeses in abundant varieties, while sports fans instantly reminisce of the multifarious successes of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. What doesn’t generally come to mind is casino gambling, but the state is actually teeming with near two dozen tribal casinos that dot all regions of the Badger State’s map.

In regards to that industry, Governor Scott Walker has been faced with a very tough decision. Ever since the IGRA of 1988, US tribes have been permitted to open casinos on their reservations, but the Menominee Indians have spent the last two decades seeking permission to open a casino in Kenosha, off their sovereign lands.

It seems like a rather simple decision, yes? Gov. Walker can grant them the right, or reject it, cut and dry. Unfortunately, the equation is not nearly so simple.

First of all, the only reason the Kenosha casino is even being considered is because the Menominee won the approval of the federal government to build an off-reservation casino 16 months ago. However, since the IGRA doesn’t permit tribal casinos off reservations, the federal government’s approval only means the state now has the right to approve it. Thus Gov. Walker is left to weigh the decision; and a lofty one it is.

Kenosha CasinoThe Menominee want to spend $810 to launch a new casino on the grounds of the former Dairyland Greyhound Park. It would make use of a dilapidating property, help to build the economy and could – by the tribe’s estimation – employ as many as 3,000 individuals. So why has the governor failed to make a decision for 16 months and counting?

Enter stage right, the Forest Co. Potawatomi. This tribe runs two casinos in Wisconsin, including the Potawatomi Casino & Hotel in Milwaukee, some 35 miles directly north of the Menominee’s chosen location. The rival tribe is adamant in its opposition of the new Kenosha casino, raising more issues for Gov. Walker to deal with.

No business likes competition, but that’s not the full scope of the problem here. The Potawatomi has a deal with the state that says, if a Kenosha casino opens, and the Potawatomi tribe loses money because of it, the state could be forced to compensate the tribe up to $100,000,000. That’s a lot of greenbacks that Walker’s administrator does not want to be responsible for.

The Menominee tribe, however, is so keen on launching the new Wisconsin casino that they’ve offered to cover any losses incurred by the Potawatomi. But still, the governor explained that the state would be responsible for paying any additional losses that were not covered by the Menominee.

Before Gov. Walker can say yay or nay to the Menominee’s offer, he must wait for an official review of the proposal by the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. “We’re hopeful, this week in fact, that we’ll get some of that back,” said the governor, “but that may open the door to even more information we need from them.”

In the meantime, the Potawatomi said they are “confident that Gov. Walker will find that this project is not in the best interest of Wisconsin.” One of their key arguments is that the Menominee partnered with the Seminole tribe in Florida to open a Hard Rock Casino in Kenosha. Thus a substantial portion of the money made would be siphoned out of state. The Menominee countered that argument by flaunting the proverbial carrot of 3,000 new jobs in the region.

The clock is ticking and Gov. Walker is quickly running out of time. One way or another, he only has until February 19, 2015 to make his decision final.

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