Why Did Gov. Walker Reject Plans For A Kenosha Casino?

Feb 16, 2015

A rendering of the proposed Menominee casino in Kenosha.
Credit WATG

UPDATE: The AP reports Governor Walker sent the Menominee Tribe a letter on Monday turning down the Kenosha casino / Bucks arena deal, stating that it was not part of the long negotiations over the proposed casino.

However, Bruce Murphy wrote in his piece that, "[Menominee tribe chairman Gary] Besaw and Menominee representatives say they made an earlier, lower offer of $100 million for the NBA arena back in October [2014]. Walker apparently sat on this information."

ORIGINAL STORY: Governor Scott Walker said a Kenosha casino posed a financial risk for the state, but a political observer suspects Walker wanted to please Iowa conservatives.

Urban Milwaukee's Bruce Murphy wrote a column questioning why Walker refuses to accept the casino deal. "This is one of the most astounding political decisions I’ve seen in more than three decades of covering state and local politics," he wrote.

Weeks ago, Walker rejected the Menominee tribe's proposal to build a Hard Rock Casino at the old Dairyland greyhound park. He said, if a new casino harms business at the Potawatomi casino in Milwaukee, the state may have to reimburse the Potawatomi.

Despite his announcement, the issue remains in the news because Walker reportedly has until Feb. 19 to render a final decision.

Marchers making their way towards Madison on Saturday.
Credit Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

Last week, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, along with Hard Rock International, offered to kick in $220 million dollars towards a proposed basketball arena in downtown Milwaukee if the governor would reconsider and approve the Kenosha development. That proposal was quickly rejected by the Walker administration.

The tribe still hopes to meet with Gov. Walker before Thursday's deadline, set by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a final decision on the Kenosha casino.

Members of the tribe are marching from Keshena to Madison to draw attention to their request for a face-to-face meeting with the governor. They say he has not met with the tribe since October of 2013. 

Walker has stood by his decision insisting the Kenosha casino is financially risky for Wisconsin. 

Secretary of Administration Mike Huebsch wrote in a memorandum last week that, "the potential exists for the State to lose hundreds of millions of dollars if the Potawatomi successfully challenges approval of the proposed Kenosha casino."

Murphy says that Huebsch's statement is based on the 2005 compact that provides some protection to the Potawatomi from any competitor within 50 miles. "But, the Walker administration had an outside attorney look that this and he concluded that it was unlikely that Potawatomi would push this issue because even if they won the dispute...the contract would revert back to the 1998 contract, under which they would lose 2,000 slot machines," Murphy says. "Basically, he concluded that there wasn't much to worry about."

So, why does Gov. Walker oppose the casino?

"One suspicion out there, of course, is that this is all about pleasing Iowa conservatives who came forward, wrote him a letter, and said that they did not want him to back this Kenosha casino," Murphy says. "Iowa would be very critical to Walker's hopes of winning the Republican presidential primary."

Recently, the City of Zion, in northern Illinois, expressed interest in locating the casino and hotel there.