APPLETON — Opponents of gambling expansion are arguing a 5 percent revenue drop at Wisconsin’s 20 American Indian casinos from 2007-11 is evidence the state has reached its saturation point for casinos. But a tribe trying to open a new casino in Kenosha is blaming the economy.
Gamblers wagered almost $16 billion at Wisconsin casinos last year, or $282 million less than the amount wagered in 2007, The Post-Crescent of Appleton reported. Wisconsin’s gambling revenue has declined along with betting — to about $1.2 billion in 2011, down almost 5 percent from 2007, according to a February report from the Casino City’s Indian Gaming Industry.
The numbers show there are “more than enough (gaming) opportunities out there,” said Brian Nemoir, the executive director of Enough Already WI, a coalition opposed to the expansion of off-reservation gambling. “The desire to participate in gambling is a personal decision, but at the same time, the costs associated with it and the effect on society cause concerns.”
Menominee tribe spokeswoman Lisa Waukau said that as the economy bounces back, people will be looking for more places to play.
“I don’t think we’ve reached the saturation point,” she said. “The people in northeastern Wisconsin and the surrounding area like to gamble.”
The Menominee have operated a casino in Keshena since the late 1980s and the tribe is seeking federal approval to open an off-reservation gaming facility in Kenosha.
One indicator that approximates how many people are gambling is the number of calls to the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling. Rose Gruber, the council’s executive director, said it fielded 14,464 calls last year, a 7 percent increase from 2011. Those who sought help had an average debt of $38,500.
“What we’ve seen with our helpline in the last few years, with the economy down, is them gambling more because there is a sense of desperation,” Gruber said.
New casinos have been proposed in Beloit, Sheboygan and Shullsburg. But the Menominee tribe’s proposal in Kenosha, which has been in the works for years, seems to be closer to fruition than the others.
The tribe’s plan, which is awaiting action by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, was dealt a recent setback when Gov. Scott Walker said all 11 Wisconsin tribes must agree before any new off-reservation casino could be opened in the state. Federal law requires the governor’s approval.
Waukau said she was surprised by Walker’s stance.
“Our attitude has always been that there’s room for everybody at the table,” she said. “And we would never keep another tribe from doing well, ever. We’re talking 3,000 good jobs with benefits.”