Casino Supporters Trying to Convince Gov. Walker to Reverse His Decision

Feb 9, 2015

An artist's rendering of the Kenosha casino
Credit WATG

People who want a casino in Kenosha are continuing their fight.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Scott Walker rejected the Menomonie Tribe’s plan for pulling members out of poverty. It called for building a Hard Rock Hotel and Casino at the old Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha. Groups in neighboring Racine are just as involved in urging the governor to change his mind.

Gov. Walker spent more than a year weighing his decision about a Kenosha casino. In the end, he said no, because he feared the state might have to reimburse the Potawatomi, if its casino in Milwaukee lost business. The Menominee Nation had promised to cover any losses.

“There’s still in our review, not a way to legally guarantee that the state would not be on the hook for about $100 million or more in the short term, and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars more in the future,” Walker says.

Walker blamed gaming compacts that former Governor Jim Doyle signed with the tribes. Hours after the governor announced his decision, about a dozen Republican officials from Racine held a news conference.

One was Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. He said the economic spillover effect into Racine would have been monumental. The Menominee promised that at least 15 percent of casino jobs would go to Racine County residents.

“On top of that, the economic impact from all of those jobs would have rippled through almost every segment of our community, from people who want to eat at a restaurant or want to stay at a hotel because the Hard Rock was full,” Vos says.

Vos notes that Kenosha’s economy received a huge shot in the arm when several big companies decided to locate operations there, including Amazon. But, Racine has not been as lucky. Mayor John Dickert says several key employers there have announced layoffs, and the city continues to lead the state in unemployment.

“While we have cut unemployment in Racine from 16 to about eight percent, it’s still not enough. As hard as we have been working here and growing jobs, we may only get 20 or 30 at a time. This was 5,000 construction jobs and 3,500 full time employment jobs,” Dickert says.

Besides elected Racine leaders calling on Gov. Walker to reconsider, so is the Racine Tea Party. More than 70 members signed a letter and sent it to the governor last week.

Leader Nancy Milholland, says she has “no idea” whether Walker will change his mind. But, she hopes the letter reminds him that Tea Party conservatives make up a large constituency.

“We have believed in Gov. Walker. We like a lot of what he’s done in the state. It’s our belief that a sign of a strong leader is the ability to change your mind and admit you’ve made the wrong decision,” Milholland says.

The Tea Party members also cite the jobs and economic benefits a casino could send Racine’s way. While the governor insists his decision is final, the Bureau of Indian Affairs says he has until Feb. 19, in the event he changes his mind.

The Menominee says it’s exploring whether it has any legal or other recourse, if Walker’s answer remains ‘no.’ And, of course, other interests are glad the governor rejected a new casino in Kenosha. They include the Potawatomi in Milwaukee.