Fed ruling creates doubts about Kenosha casino project

    The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin is holding steadfast in its determination to develop a new casino at Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha, but a member of its partnering tribe on the East Coast is expressing growing concerns about the likelihood that the project will ever see the light of day.

    The Menominee’s partner for the Kenosha project is the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut.

    Mohegan author Ken Davison publishes "Feather News," which is a blog of "Independent News For Mohegans By Mohegans." In last Saturday’s edition, Davison wrote a blog headlined, "Interior Delivers Blow To Tribe’s Diversification Program."

    Davison noted that the U.S. Department of Interior last week issued new policies that will further restrict the ability of Indian tribes to add land for casinos to their reservation land-base if the properties aren’t close to their reservation.

    The Interior Department subsequently denied at least 11 applications that were either incomplete or were awaiting decisions.

    The Kenosha project was not among those plans that were rejected. However, Davison expressed concerns about the precedents set by the new policy and the latest rulings.

    "While applications from the two tribes that are partnering with the Mohegans are not yet close to reaching the final decision stage, the new policy may not even permit the Wisconsin casino land-into-trust application to be approved once the application does satisfy the criteria that existed before last week’s policy changes," wrote Davison, who is a veteran financial consultant.

    "The Mohegan Tribe has wagered tens of millions of dollars on two future casino ventures with tribes in Wisconsin and the state of Washington that hinge on the Interior Department eventually taking off-reservation land parcels into trust for the casinos. Neither project has yet to reach the point where its application is complete but the new guidelines, which stress local government support, could further hamper their efforts," Davison wrote. "The Interior Department did not rule on the casino project between the Mohegans and the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, however, an application from the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa tribe of Wisconsin was denied in which the tribe sought to build a casino in southeastern Wisconsin, 308 miles from their reservation. The Kenosha casino would be about 200 miles from the Menominee reservation."

    Evan Zeppos, spokesman for the Kenosha project, noted that Davison’s viewpoint does not represent the official viewpoint of the Mohegan Tribe.

    Zeppos said he remains "cautiously optimistic" that the Kenosha project ultimately will gain federal approval.

    He noted the strong local support for the project. The City of Kenosha, the County of Kenosha and the Menominee Tribe each have signed an intergovernmental agreement for the plan, which also has received referendum approval from Kenosha County residents. Zeppos also cited the need for the project from the standpoint that the Menominee is the most impoverished of Wisconsin’s Native American tribes.

    "Ours is a very unique application. We are a very poor tribe, and we have extremely strong local support," Zeppos said.

    The Kenosha project also was stung with this week’s news that the Forest County Potawatomi Tribe is negotiating to offer pari-mutuel betting on off-track horse and dog racing at its casino to be expanded in Milwaukee. Off-track betting in Milwaukee would take betting customers away from the Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha.

    The news about the Potawatomi’s plans to add off-track betting prompted the Menominee to issue a media alert, headlined, "Another Worthless Potawatomi Promise," Tuesday.

    "The Potawatomi promised Wisconsin they wouldn’t do it – but apparently, they’ve changed their minds," the Menominee’s bulletin said. "The Potawatomi have decided to go back on their word to the state and offer off-track betting at their off-reservation casino in Milwaukee … It’s another example of the Potawatomi using strong-arm tactics to get what they want … not a piece of the pie, but the whole pie for themselves."

    However, Potawatomi spokesman Ken Walsh said his tribe negotiated the right to provide pari-mutuel betting in its 2003 gaming compact with the state.

    "It’s always been part of the plan. There was never an agreement not to offer it by the tribe," Walsh told SBT.


    Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times.

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