As Beloit Proposal Looms, A Look At Why The Kenosha Casino Deal Didn't Work Out

Mar 5, 2019

Remember all the buzz about the proposed Kenosha casino a few years ago? The Menominee Tribe wanted to build a huge off-reservation hotel and casino complex near Interstate-94. It promised thousands of jobs — and a chance to pull the poverty-stricken tribe out of hardship. But Republican then-Gov. Scott Walker rejected the proposal, killing it.

Now, the Ho Chunk Nation wants to build a large-scale casino and resort complex in Beloit, on the Illinois border. That plan looks like it might succeed.

Read:  Some Residents Thrilled, Others Leery Of Proposed Beloit Casino

The Menominee Nation proposed the $800 million Hard Rock Hotel and casino complex in 2013. Tribal officials rolled out their plans at the proposed site — the former Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha, just off of I-94. The tribe’s chairman at the time, Craig Corn, touted the economic development that the project would bring to the area.

“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.

His last comment about being open for business was referring to then-Gov. Walker’s motto for the state. The proposal cleared federal hurdles, but it was up to Walker to give final approval. He said he wouldn’t sign off on the casino complex unless it had the support of all of Wisconsin’s 11 tribes.

The tribe that raised the strongest objection was the Forest County Potawatomi. Tribal officials said a complex located so close to the Potawatomi's Milwaukee operation would devastate business. In protest of the Menominee plan, the tribe withheld its casino fee payment to the state.

Walker said if the Menominee casino was built, the state could be responsible for paying the Potawatomi up to $500 million for losses incurred because of the competition in Kenosha. So Walker rejected the Menominee’s plan, arguing it would have cost the state too much. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said he was disappointed with the decision.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (at podium) speaks at a news conference in 2015, after Gov. Scott Walker turned down the proposed Kenosha casino.
Credit Marti Mikkelson

“We know that the venue would have brought tourists from all over the country. We know that an opportunity for growth and development would have pushed all the way into Racine County’s borders, but unfortunately today, we were not able to see the fruits of all that labor,” Vos says.

Others were relieved that the Menominee wouldn’t be building a huge complex in Kenosha. George Ermert of the Forest County Potawatomi says in addition to the project being a threat to the casino in Milwaukee, the tribe had other issues with the Menominee’s proposal — including the fact that it would be built on former Potawatomi treaty land.

Read: How Many Casinos Could The Southern Wisconsin & Northern Illinois Market Support?

“The Potawatomi believe that any tribe, whether it be Menominee, Ho Chunk, Oneida, the Chippewa, they should not be doing things on another tribe’s former treaty land. And, Kenosha is former Potawatomi treaty land, so that was an issue in itself,” Ermert says.

He adds that the proposal was a joint venture between the Menominee and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. He argues that because of that, the Kenosha casino would have resulted in sending millions of dollars to Florida instead of keeping the money in Wisconsin.

He acknowledges there are whisperings in the industry that plans for a Kenosha casino could be revived someday, possibly by the Menominee or another tribe. Ermert says if that happens, the Potawatomi would oppose the plans for the same reasons it did in 2013. However, the Potawatomi does back a planned Ho Chunk casino for Beloit.