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Ads Ramp Up As Casino Deadline Looms

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Now that the November election is history, a different kind of campaign has begun – perhaps you’ve noticed the ads.

Gov. Scott Walker has until February to decide whether the Menominee tribe can build a huge casino gaming complex at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park. Efforts to sway public opinion are infiltrating the airwaves.

Walker laid out several criteria the Menominee must meet, in order for him to approve their casino plan. Those include that it would not increase the level of gaming in Wisconsin, and that all 11 tribes here agree to the development.

The Menominee jumped right out of the gate after the Nov. 4 election and began airing radio ads. The Potawatomi is now the only tribe standing in the way. It fears a new casino complex in Kenosha would devastate its operation in Milwaukee.

The state must reimburse tribes for any losses they incur from new casinos, according to the gaming compact former Gov. Jim Doyle set up in 2005. Gov. Walker says in the case of the Potawatomi, reimbursement could top $100 million.

An outside group used that number in an ad it launched last week on behalf of the Potawatomi. A more recent TV ad points out that a Kenosha casino would involve the Seminole tribe of Florida. George Ermert echoes that fact, as a spokesman for the Potawatomi.

“This is still a project that will be managed and developed by an out of state tribe, who will take hundreds of millions of dollars out of Wisconsin and will bring hundreds of millions to Florida,” Ermert says.

The Menominee Nation, in turn points to the north. Spokesman Gary Besaw says the tribe is one of the poorest in the country and would benefit from an influx of casino money.

“Our unemployment rate is 15 percent, our children in poverty rate my gosh, is 47 percent,” Besaw says.

Another group offering Gov. Walker an opinion to consider, is Wisconsin Family Action. Director Julaine Appling fears the casino would exacerbate gambling addictions.

“Studies show that when a casino comes to a new area, that more people get involved with gambling and become problem gamblers simply because it’s more accessible. And, when that happens it takes a toll on the family unit,” Appling says.

In addition, Appling’s group has submitted an open records request. It asks the Walker Administration to release a memo of understanding related to the casino. The memo is reportedly an agreement the Menominee signed 10 years ago with local labor unions, promising not to interfere with attempts to organize workers. Appling wants to know if the deal might force workers to accept unionization.

Whether the issue of unions appears in casino ads, remains to be seen. Surely, more will hit the airwaves, according to Charles Franklin. He directs the Marquette Law School poll. Franklin says the numbers could change in the coming weeks, as advertising ramps up.

“Now as we’re closing in on a February decision, we may see a lot more efforts to focus public opinion in the city,” Franklin says.

Franklin’s latest poll indicates that in Milwaukee, 51 percent of residents support a Kenosha casino, while 28 percent oppose the project.  The Walker Administration hired a national law firm more than a year ago to study the issue. A spokesman says the office is continuing to seek a “win-win-win” scenario.