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Kenosha Casino Debate: The Numbers Game


The Menominee tribe has until Tuesday to win unanimous support for a new casino in Kenosha.

The tribe wants to build a Hard Rock International complex at the old Dairyland Greyhound Park.

Gov. Scott Walker says he’ll only OK the deal if all 11 tribes in Wisconsin approve it and, it does not increase net gaming in the state.

Two tribes remain opposed: the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk. They fear their casinos would take a hit. The Ho-Chunk operate five gaming halls in central and western Wisconsin. President Jon Greendeer has estimated potential yearly losses, if there’s more competition.

“$20 million. It could be less, but more importantly it could be more,” Greendeer says.

Greendeer says the tribe depends on gambling revenue.

The Potawatomi, meanwhile, argue they could lose up to 40 percent of the money they make at their casino and bingo hall in Milwaukee. The tribe also cites a possible loss of 3,000 jobs.

Wisconsin could lose even more potential jobs if it lets a new casino slip away, according to Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. He backs the Kenosha project.

“I believe that if this casino is not built, that Illinois will almost assuredly build one in Lake County, which will mean Wisconsinites will cross the border and go south,” Barca says.

Planners project the complex would generate 5,000 jobs, including hundreds during the construction phase. The U.S. Department of the Interior gave federal approval to proceed with a casino. Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He says the losses the Potawatomi fear in Milwaukee, would not happen.

“The data that we reviewed showed that there would be a minor impact to the Forest County Potawatomi Casino, and the impact would go away after just a couple of years,” Washburn says.

According to Washburn, the Menominee need a new way to make money, because many members live in poverty. But just how much gaming can the region sustain? No more, according to a group called Enough Already. Brian Nemoir is spokesman.

“Right now we’ve got 24 casinos in the state, offering approximately 16,000 electronic games, an additional 500 or so table games. Anything that adds to that inventory is going to provide additional challenges to the dollars that are being expended on gaming,” Nemoirsyas.

Enough Already describes itself as a coalition opposed to the expansion of off-reservation gaming. While it insists the region has reached gambling saturation, Frank Fantini claims the market could support quite a bit more. Fantini is CEO of a research firm and writes a regular gaming report. He says he’s crunched the numbers, regarding market size.

“In Milwaukee for example, you have a combined statistical area of about 1.7-1.8 million people, I think you’ve got something around 200,000 in Kenosha County, you’ve got about 700,000-800,000 in Lake County in Illinois. If you add those all up, you have about 2.9 million people,” Fantini says.

Fantini says 2.9 million is about equal to the size of metro St. Louis, an area that sustains  $1 billion in gaming revenue. He says that’s two to three times what he estimates the Potawatomi generate at their Milwaukee casino. Gov. Walker must decide whether Wisconsin should position itself for more.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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