The word "monopoly" has its origins in the Greek words for "one seller," and its definition is just that: the exclusive control by one company of a service or product. A politically powerful monopoly exists in southeast Wisconsin, where the Forest County Potawatomi Community has cornered the local gaming market with the only full-service casino in the region in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley.
Potawatomi Bingo Casino has operated more than 100 miles from any real and substantive Wisconsin competition since it opened in the early 1990s, enjoying a monopoly that has transformed the once-destitute tribe into a super-wealthy political powerhouse. Today, the Potawatomi have the financial ability to give their 1,299 members quality housing, health care, educational opportunities and, according to media reports, at least $68,000 in leftover cash – nearly twice the average Wisconsin annual income – apiece every year.
In recent years, Potawatomi leaders also have directed millions of dollars in gaming profits into a sophisticated, multi-state political operation aimed at killing plans by another poor Wisconsin Tribe, the 8,300-member Menominee, to build an entertainment center and casino in Kenosha, about 35 miles to the south. Potawatomi’s expensive campaign to block competition – which by conservative estimates has already reached $5.4 million – is detailed in a new report by Casino Competition for Wisconsin, appropriately titled "A Litany of Greed."
The Litany (available at www.CasinoCompetitionForWisconsin.com) chronicles how an army of high-priced lobbyists, political pollsters, ad executives, PR experts and lawyers are carrying out Potawatomi’s anti-competition battle plan – sadly, even several Milwaukee-area nonprofits beholden to the Potawatomi for funding have been drafted to lend their name to the misguided cause.
Potawatomi has flooded the media with misleading ads, tried to buy an election, orchestrated letter-writing campaigns, set up front groups and arranged a farcical "public hearing" against the Kenosha project in Illinois, of all places. They’ve even gone so far as to try to change federal and state law to stop the Menominee from doing exactly what the Potawatomi themselves did nearly two decades ago.
Economic studies show the regional market can easily support competition.
While Potawatomi’s leaders claim a Kenosha casino would hurt their lucrative Milwaukee operations, the facts say otherwise. Multiple economic studies show southeast Wisconsin’s gaming market is significantly underserved, with plenty of room for two casinos to thrive. In fact, a November 2005 study by REH Capital Partners LLC paid for solely by the Potawatomi showed that annual revenues at the expanding Milwaukee casino would jump by 63 percent – to more than $400 million a year – even with the Kenosha facility in place.
In addition to allowing plenty of market share for the Potawatomi casino to continue to flourish, the Kenosha casino would be one of the region’s largest employers, creating 1,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs with benefits for southeast Wisconsin residents. Economic projections show it would pay state and local governments more than $2.2 billion over its first 25 years of operation, more than any other business or Tribe.
Yet Potawatomi’s leaders, apparently not satisfied with a mere $400 million a year, seem willing to accept lost Wisconsin jobs and economic opportunity as collateral damage in their monopoly battle.
When faced with their own hypocrisy, the Potawatomi deny having a monopoly because other forms of gambling (like the lottery and a struggling dog track) exist in southeast Wisconsin. But Potawatomi Bingo Casino doesn’t offer mere "gambling," it offers slots, poker, blackjack, roulette, craps and other table games that are otherwise not available within 100 miles. Potawatomi is clearly the only game in town, and beyond.
Competition is at the heart of a free-market society and respect for healthy business competition is part of our state’s proud, progressive heritage. The Menominee, one of Wisconsin’s largest and poorest Tribes, want to compete fairly and lift themselves from poverty the way their Potawatomi brothers and sisters did. But Potawatomi’s leaders – who twice refused to help the Menominee with their Kenosha plans – aren’t flattered by such imitation. Their focus is not on helping a fellow Tribe, or even becoming a strong competitor, but on restraining trade and locking in a monopoly that has made them one of the richest Tribes in the country.
"A Litany of Greed" exposes the misinformation, hypocrisy and hubris that have permeated Potawatomi’s campaign against the Kenosha casino. The ads, political pressure, rhetoric and publicity stunts all have the same goal of blocking competition and preserving Potawatomi’s monopoly.
Potawatomi’s leaders want a business advantage available to no one else in Wisconsin – and southeast Wisconsin and the entire state will be hurt if they get it.
Evan Zeppos, a spokesman for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin’s Kenosha casino project, is editor of the Casino Competition for Wisconsin blog at www.CasinoCompetitionForWisconsin.com.