Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee, the only casino in southeastern Wisconsin, has certainly been extremely lucrative for the Forest County Potawatomi Community.
Seeking a similar windfall, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin for years tried to gain approval to build a casino and entertainment complex at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park dog track along I-94 in Kenosha. The tribe planned an $800 million complex including a casino, hotel and multipurpose entertainment facility and partnered with Hard Rock International.
However, the Potawatomi tribe adamantly opposed the Menominee’s plans for a Kenosha casino. The Ho-Chunk Nation, which is now trying to get approval to build a casino in Beloit, also opposed the Kenosha casino plans.
After a lengthy process, the Menominee tribe finally got approval for the Kenosha project from the federal government. However, approval from the Wisconsin governor was also required, and in early 2015 then-Gov. Scott Walker rejected the project. Walker said he did so because the state’s gaming compact with the Potawatomi would have required the state to reimburse the tribe for any losses suffered by the opening of a competing casino. Mike Huebsch, Walker’s secretary of administration, said the state could have had to pay the Potawatomi “hundreds of millions” of dollars if it allowed a competing casino in Kenosha.
Others disagreed with the Walker administration’s interpretation of its legal obligations to the Potawatomi. The Menominee tribe offered to cover any losses incurred at competing casinos. But it was all for naught.
The Kenosha casino complex could have created 3,300 jobs and generated millions in shared revenues with the state. The idea of putting a casino halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago made a lot of sense from a business standpoint.
Rejecting the project raised a major concern: What if Illinois allows a casino to be built just across the state line, competing with Potawatomi but depriving Wisconsin of the jobs and revenue opportunity?
Well, it appears that is exactly what’s going to happen. Earlier this year Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a gambling package that allows casinos in Waukegan, Rockford and three other areas.
The city of Waukegan, located about 12 miles south of Kenosha, issued a request for proposals for casino developers. The city received six responses, including one from Potawatomi.
It will be very interesting to see if Waukegan officials select the Potawatomi proposal or if they choose a different entity to establish a casino there. The stakes are high.
Rodney Ferguson, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino chief executive officer and general manager, said Potawatomi considers Waukegan to be in the same market as Milwaukee.
“Because we’ve been in the market the last three decades it just makes sense to continue our brand in that particular market area,” he said.
One reason Potawatomi wants to build a casino in Waukegan is because if they don’t, someone else will, Ferguson said.