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Hard Rock, Menominee Unveil Kenosha Casino Plans

 The public got a glimpse Thursday at the casino the Menominee Nation wants to build in Kenosha.

The tribe would hand over development to Hard Rock International. It would create an $800 million hotel and casino at the old Dairyland Greyhound Park.

Members of the Menominee Nation and Hard Rock International called a news conference Thursday to unveil the plans.

Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser was brimming with excitement over the idea of Hard Rock putting its iconic name on the project.

“On behalf of the citizens of Kenosha County and Kenosha County government, it’s my honor to welcome Hard Rock to our community. Hard Rock Kenosha. I like the sound of that, I really do," Kreuser says.

Kreuser implored Gov. Walker to approve the proposal. It makes sense, according to Menomonie Tribal Chairman Craig Corn. He ticked off reasons why, he says, the governor should sign off on the project and even echoed one of the governor’s popular phrases.

“5,000 direct and indirect jobs, tens of millions of dollars to the state and local governments and schools, a continued business and tourism edge over Illinois and now a globally recognized high caliber entertainment brand calling the Badger State home, and affirming that Wisconsin is definitely open for business,” Corn says.

Corn says tribal members have not met with Gov. Walker since the federal government approved the Menominee’s plans to build a casino, off-reservation.

The governor has publicly stated that he won’t sign off, unless all 11 tribes in the state agree. Three don’t – the three that operate successful casinos, including the Potawatomi in Milwaukee.

State Rep. Peter Barca of Kenosha says the Menominee indicates it’s open to sharing revenue with the other tribes, so it’s time for Walker to call a meeting of the minds.

“I think the governor has a big challenge in front of him. He has got to bring the tribes together, he has got to broker a deal and that’s what we expect from a Wisconsin governor,” Barca says.

Barca says he’s afraid if Hard Rock doesn’t put a casino here, it will build in Illinois. The Potawatomi reiterated its position Thursday; it will not support the Kenosha casino, no matter the developer.  Tribal Spokesman Ken Walsh says the Potawatomi could lose $150 million in revenue per year, if its Milwaukee casino loses business to a new Kenosha venue.

“It’s not just going to hurt the Potawatomi. This proposed casino 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 complex would short stop many of those visitors.

Charles Franklin says both sides are appealing to Gov. Walker by using one of his signature issues - creating private sector jobs. Yet the ads each side is running pit one area’s economy against the other’s. Franklin is professor of law and public policy at Marquette Law School.

“The advocates for the Kenosha casino point to the large number of jobs they say would be created there, while the interests in Milwaukee point to the potential threat of losing jobs from the Potawatomi casino. So, it’s an interesting conflict between jobs here vs. jobs there, and new jobs vs. old jobs,” Franklin says.

Franklin says he doubts any governor wants to choose between jobs in one area versus another, especially when there might be no real net gain in jobs overall. Gov. Walker said a few weeks ago, that he’ll make his decision, following a 60-day public comment period.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.