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Commentary: Not everyone cashes in on casino projects

By Joe Yovino


(Rendering courtesy of Hard Rock International)

It’s not really about a casino, it’s about jobs.

Every news release and news story on the on-again, off-again casino the Menominee Nation wants to build in Kenosha is peppered with the word “jobs.” The jobs the casino might or might not steal from Milwaukee’s Potowatomi casino, the 1,400 temporary construction jobs and the 3,356 permanent jobs the $808 million Kenosha casino will create.

The numbers look great. Who doesn’t like jobs? Even a sign a few miles south of the proposed casino site on I-94 reads “Wisconsin is open for business.”

The promise of jobs leaves people all warm and fuzzy. But take an 80-mile drive south and west of the casino’s proposed site at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park and look at the promise of jobs in practice.

Twenty years ago, similar pledges were made in Aurora, Ill. Hollywood Casino Aurora opened June 17, 1993, with the same excitement of a promise to revitalize the economy of a struggling town. Two floating casinos — Illinois does not allow land-based gaming — rolled up their anchors and headed down the Fox River, floating on assurances of tax revenue and jobs.

The Aurora casino has brought $238.7 million in tax revenue to the city. It brought the initial construction and permanent jobs. But 20 years later, the reality of present-day Aurora is a lack of downtown redevelopment and over-inflated assurances of jobs.

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner has said the hopes of some who thought the Hollywood Aurora casino would be an instant boon for downtown restaurants, shops and hotels might have been disappointed. For all of its glitz, the casino has failed to produce the golden goose many in Aurora had hoped for and banked on.

Unemployment in Aurora in 1993 when the casino opened was 10.2 percent among the roughly 99,500 people living in the city at the time. Now it’s at 8.4 percent for the 135,558 people living in Illinois’ second-largest city — still well above the nationwide average of 7.3 percent. Aurora has 11.9 percent of its population living under the poverty level with its per capita income of $25,491. Residents travel, on average, almost a half-hour to get to their jobs; they’re not going down the street to work at the casino.

In many respects, Aurora is Kenosha. Kenosha’s unemployment rate is at 9.4 percent, well above the state average of 6.7 percent. Almost 13 percent of Kenosha’s families live under the poverty level.

Kenosha and all of southeastern Wisconsin needs jobs, and with Hard Rock International joining the project, hopes are running at a fevered pitch that the area will hit a jackpot.

Unfortunately, jackpots can be fleeting.

Joe Yovino is the Web editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or at the Aurora casino contributing to the local economy.

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