By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker’s administration announced a deal on Tuesday to end a long-running dispute with the Forest County Potawatomi Tribe, an agreement that would cut the state’s liability by half if a new casino should open near the tribe’s existing casino in Milwaukee.
The deal would reduce the amount the state would have to refund the Potawatomi if a casino were opened within 30 to 50 miles of the tribe’s Milwaukee casino and that casino were to lose money as a result, taking the maximum liability from $500 million down to $250 million.
The Potawatomi have fought for more than 15 years and with two governor’s administrations, including the past three years in federal court, over what should happen if a new off-reservation casino were built by the Menominee Nation in Kenosha. That is just over 30 miles away from Milwaukee.
In 2015, Walker rejected the Menominee’s proposal for an $800 million casino at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park dog track in Kenosha. The casino was to be a joint venture between the Menominee Tribe and Hard Rock Casino. In rejecting the plan, Walker cited its risk to taxpayers, who could have ended up refunding the Potawatomi hundreds of millions of dollars.
The deal Walker reached with the Potawatomi was signed on Friday and released by Walker’s administration just over a month before he’s scheduled to leave office. It can’t take effect without first being approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has 45 days to take action after receiving it.
Department of Administration Secretary Ellen Nowak said she had briefed Gov.-elect Tony Evers’ transition team on the amendment. Evers’ spokeswoman, Carrie Lynch, had no comment.
Under the deal, the Potawatomi could withhold up to $250 million in payments to the state if a new casino were approved. That’s half of what an arbitration panel had decided in 2014 it would allow.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected the arbitration panel’s decision in 2015. The Potawatomi sued in federal court; their challenge was rejected in September.
Under the new deal, which would last until 2031, the Potawatomi could recoup a maximum of $250 million in payments if a new casino were built between 30 and 50 miles away of their existing casino in Milwaukee and resulted in revenue losses. That liability limit would come on top of an existing outright ban on the construction of any casinos within 30 miles of the one in Milwaukee.
Jeff Crawford, Forest County Potawatomi attorney general, applauded the agreement in a statement, saying it would “clarify the obligations” set out for the state and tribe in a gaming compact dating to 2005. Crawford said he looked forward to working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to secure a final approval.
John Dipko, a spokesman for the Department of Administration, also praised the deal.
“Ultimately, this amendment resolves an issue that has existed since 2003 in terms that are favorable to Wisconsin’s taxpayers,” he said.
The original compact was negotiated by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.
Earlier this month, four Wisconsin congressional representatives sent the Walker administration a letter calling for a “swift and successful conclusion” to the negotiations, saying not having a deal in place gave rise to “more risk and uncertainty” to both taxpayers and the tribe.
That letter was signed by the Democrats Gwen Moore, Mark Pocan and Ron Kind and Republican Sean Duffy.