A recent poll shows strong support for the proposed casino, hotel and entertainment complex development that the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and Hard Rock International want to build in Kenosha.
Of course, those poll results should be taken with a grain of salt since the poll was commissioned by the Menominee tribe. Nevertheless, previous plans for a casino in Kenosha also had significant support, so it stands to reason this project does as well.
This is the second time the Menominee and Hard Rock, which is owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, have tried to build a casino development in Kenosha. Previously they planned an $800 million development that included a casino, a 400-room hotel, a 5,000-seat entertainment venue and 50,000 square feet of retail space at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park site.
Those plans were rejected by then Gov. Scott Walker, who said the state’s gaming compacts with other tribes, including the Forest County Potawatomi (which has a massive hotel and casino complex in Milwaukee) put the state at risk of losing “hundreds of millions of dollars” if a casino was approved in Kenosha. A bipartisan group of 10 state lawmakers – most from the Kenosha and Racine area – asked Walker to reconsider, but he refused.
In Wisconsin, only native American tribes are allowed to operate casinos. If they want to operate one on a site that is outside of their reservation, they need to obtain approval from the federal government (a lengthy process) and the governor.
The Potawatomi opposed plans for a Kenosha casino to protect its southeastern Wisconsin monopoly. Some of its patrons come from Illinois and a Kenosha casino could attract many of those and cut into Potawatomi’s market share.
But plans for several other casinos are moving forward in Illinois to tap into that market. Construction recently began for a Hard Rock casino and hotel in Rockford. Plans are also moving forward for a casino in Waukegan, which Potawatomi wanted to build, but a different developer was selected for the project by the city. Potawatomi was so upset about that decision, the tribe sued the city.
In addition, the Ho-Chunk Nation plans to build a casino in Beloit.
So competing casinos are emerging near southeastern Wisconsin, whether Potawatomi likes it or not.
Now, seven years after its plans were rejected by Walker, the Menominee tribe and Hard Rock are trying again in Kenosha, with a new site and a smaller project, acknowledging that the area’s casino landscape has changed with new competition coming to Illinois and Beloit that will cut into demand.
Good idea or not, it’s time to finally let the Kenosha casino plans move forward. It’s not too much to ask Potawatomi to accept a competitor 33 miles away. Hopefully the approval process with the federal government moves along expeditiously, considering a similar project had already been approved, and whoever is elected governor grants approval. n
Holiday flash sale! Subscribe to BizTimes and save nearly 40%!