Lawmakers ask Walker to reconsider rejection of Kenosha casino

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A group of 10 state lawmakers, most from the Kenosha and Racine area, sent a letter to Gov. Scott Walker today asking him to reconsider his decision to reject the proposed Hard Rock Hotel & Casino project in Kenosha.

“As you know, we are greatly disappointed in your announced decision to deny the Hard Rock Casino application in Kenosha County,” the letter to Walker says. “To be frank, the vast majority of our constituents are more than disappointed in your action. We urge you to take the full time allowable before Feb. 19, 2015 to give this fluid and rapidly changing situation your full consideration.”

The letter is signed by Sen. Van Wanggaard ( R-Racine), Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Somers), Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem), Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), Rep. Tod Ohnstad (D-Kenosha), Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine), Rep. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon), Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz) and Rep. Tom Weatherston (R-Caledonia).

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The Menominee Indian Tribe intended to partner with Hard Rock International and its parent company, The Seminole Tribe of Florida, to develop the $800 million Hard Rock Hotel and Casino project at the former site of Dairyland Greyhound Park. The proposed project included a 100,000-square-foot gaming floor with 3,100 slot machines, 75 table games, a 5,000-seat multi-purpose entertainment venue, 50,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants and a 400-room hotel.

But the project was rejected last week by Walker, who said that gaming compacts negotiated by former Gov. Jim Doyle with other tribes, including the Forest County Potawatomi, put the state at risk of losing “hundreds of millions of dollars” long term if a casino is approved in Kenosha.

“After a comprehensive review of the potential economic impact of the proposed Kenosha casino project, the risk to the state’s taxpayers is too great,” Walker said.

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The Menominee and its partners had agreed to post a bond to protect state taxpayers if the state was required to reimburse the Potawatomi for lost revenue from the Kenosha casino.
The Potawatomi filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior on the grounds that the Bureau of Indian Affairs exceeded its legal authority in denying the tribe’s proposed gaming compact amendment with the state of Wisconsin. Earlier this month the BIA rejected a proposed amendment to the tribe’s gaming compact that would have required the state to reimburse the tribe for any losses incurred at its Milwaukee casino if a competing casino is opened in Kenosha.

In their letter to Walker today, the lawmakers said “it is extremely unlikely that the Potawatomi will be successful in its lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

“Fear of litigation, or the risk of losing litigation, should not be a factor in your decision,” the legislators’ letter to Walker says. “The Hard Rock Casino is in the best interests of the state, given the economic magnitude of the project it is also worth the court battle.”

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“This is an opportunity for an $800 million investment in our state, thousands of jobs, millions of tourists and a billion dollars to the state treasury over the coming years. The 9,000 Menominee tribal members and thousands looking for work in southeastern Wisconsin are depending on this development to lift them out of poverty. The benefits are too great, the opportunity is too extraordinary, for you to not give this a second look.”

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