By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON — Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined laborers, business owners and others Thursday at the state Capitol in an effort to pressure Gov. Scott Walker to approve the Menominee tribe’s plan for a new casino in Kenosha.
It’s up to Walker whether to approve the casino project after it got the go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Interior in August. Walker has said he won’t approve the $800 million entertainment complex at the old Dairyland Greyhound dog track unless the 10 other tribes in the state agree. The Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi tribes, which already operate lucrative casinos in Wisconsin, repeatedly have stated their opposition to the Menominee’s plans.
The Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk “remain far from reaching an agreement with the Menominee,” Walker said Thursday in the latest daily update on his decision process.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said at the Capitol news conference that Walker should work with the tribes to find a “win-win” for the state. He noted that the Menominee have offered to pay more to the state than their promised 7.5 percent of net winnings so the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk wouldn’t have to pay the state as much.
Walker’s other two criteria, in addition to consensus from the tribes, is that the casino and Hard Rock International project must have community support and that there be “no new net gaming.” Walker has not defined what that means.
Attendees at the news conference, including local elected officials from the Kenosha area and workers from construction industries, said the promise of 1,400 temporary jobs to build the casino and 3,300 more permanent ones was too good to pass up.
“Folks here need jobs,” Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman said.
Tribes that oppose the project say contrary to the Menominee’s claims, a casino in Kenosha just 40 miles from the Potawatomi’s operation in Milwaukee will result in a loss of 3,000 jobs in the Milwaukee area.
“At a time in which job creation and retention are the top priority at every level of government, it would be counterproductive to approve a project that may benefit some at the expense of thousands of other Wisconsin residents,” said Milwaukee City Council President Willie Hines in a statement.
But proponents of the casino argue if it’s not built in Kenosha, one will be constructed in northern Illinois, sucking money out of Wisconsin.
Walker should embrace the Kenosha casino, Barca said, because it will help him reach his promise of creating 250,000 private sector jobs by 2015.
“If the governor had a hundred projects like this, he’d meet his goal,” Barca said.
The Menominee have been pushing to open an off-reservation casino in Kenosha for more than 20 years, saying it will help pull their people out of poverty. The Menominee reservation covers all of Menominee County, one of the most economically depressed areas in Wisconsin.