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Politics & Government

Both Sides Ramp up the Rhetoric in Casino Battle


If you watch television, you probably know a casino battle is underway in southeastern Wisconsin. Each side is running ads.

In August, the federal government gave the Menominee tribe permission to build a casino in Kenosha – at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park.

There are fears in Milwaukee that a casino to the south will siphon business from the Potawatomi complex here.

Both sides believe they have 60 days to sway the final decision. The person who must make it – Gov. Scott Walker.

Moments after the federal government gave the nod to the Menominee, the tribe launched a website. It urges people to contact Gov. Walker and persuade him to approve a Kenosha casino. Then, the campaign grew into TV ads.

“Gov. Walker I know you are an advocate of free enterprise. We are asking you to be fair and to give us a shot at improving our economy. A casino will bring good jobs to our area and to the state of Wisconsin…”

Gary Besaw leads the Menominee tribe. He says the ads talk about jobs because the governor has promised to create 250,000 of them in four years.

Right now, he’s not on target, while the unemployment rate in Kenosha and Racine hovers at over eight percent – above the state average.

“We’re looking at easily over 5,000 direct and indirect jobs, over 1,400 construction jobs. On average we would be sending more than $35 million to the state,” Besaw says.

Besaw adds that the Menominee tribe is one of the poorest in the nation. He says profits from a casino could help members become self-sufficient, reducing the need for government services.

“People want to see people and families healthy. They want to see people employed. They want to make sure people have that ability to get off welfare and to have a healthy, sustaining job,” Besaw says.

“Governor Walker, how is losing 3,000 jobs in Milwaukee going to move Wisconsin Forward?”

That’s the other ad you’ve probably heard. A group called Enough Already Wisconsin has paid for it.

The ad references Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s assertion that a casino in Kenosha could cost Milwaukee 3,000 jobs – jobs linked to the Potawatomi casino here. Spokesman Ken Walsh says the loss in revenue could be $150 million.

“Quite substantial, which will have a ripple effect; it’s not just going to hurt Potawatomi. This proposed facility is going to affect all of Milwaukee,” Walsh says.

Walsh says every year, six million people visit the Potawatomi casino – many from the Chicago area.  He fears a Kenosha venue would short stop some of those visitors. He says the Menominee’s application to the federal government also indicates Kenosha planners would discriminate against Milwaukee workers.

“They have a hiring preference for residents of Kenosha and Racine and Milwaukee County residents are third in line for jobs,” Walsh says.

Walsh says the Potawatomi hasn’t decided yet if it will run TV ads. Gov. Walker has said he’ll make a final decision following a 60-day public comment period. He’s also added significant caveats. One is that there be no new net gaming in Wisconsin. So the Menominee might have to close one of its small casinos in Keshena, in order to open a new one in Kenosha.

Walker’s bigger condition is that all 11 tribes approve a new casino. So far, only eight have expressed support. The other three operate popular casinos in Wisconsin.

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