Tribes Plan Major Casino Development

Three major casino developments are in the planning stages in southeastern Wisconsin. It could take years for all of the projects to gain approvals and break ground, but each would provide a major economic impact.

The Menominee Indian Tribe is once again moving forward with plans to build a casino at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park site in Kenosha, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community of Mole Lake tribe is reportedly working on plans for a casino near Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan and the Forest County Potawatomi tribe is considering plans to build a hotel adjacent to its Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee.

For years the Menominee tribe has planned to build a casino at Dairyland Greyhound Park. But near the end of the George W. Bush administration the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected the proposal. BIA approval is needed for tribes to build off-reservation casinos.

In response, the Menominee tribe filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2009, and reached a settlement in mid-2011. As part of the settlement the tribe was given an opportunity to update and resubmit its application to the BIA for the Kenosha casino project.

The Kenosha casino project has a much greater chance of gaining approval under the Obama administration, said Rory Dilweg, special counsel for the Menominee tribe. The Bush administration was strongly opposed to off-reservation casino projects, he said.

“We feel that we have a chance,” Dilweg said. “Under the Bush administration, they had made up their mind that they didn’t want to deal with these things. They either sat on them or denied them. Now we feel like we have a fighting chance.”

The Menomonee tribe is working to update its application, which should be complete in the next “month or so,” Dilweg said. “The tribe is updating all of the portions of the application that the BIA requested we update.”

Once that work is complete the tribe will submit the application and wait for the BIA’s decision. There is no time frame for how long that could take. If approved by the BIA the project would need the approval of the governor.

The details of the Kenosha casino project have not changed, although the project could be revised as the tribe updates its market study, Dilweg said. The plans still call for an $800 million development with a 115,000-square-foot gaming facility with 3,100 slot machines and 75 table games, a 400-room hotel, several restaurants and a 5,000-seat multi-use entertainment center.

The dog track, which was part of the original plans, shut down in 2010. No decision has been made about whether the dog track would be re-opened, Dilweg said.

The Mohegan tribe in Connecticut still has an agreement to manage the Kenosha casino. However, that tribe is no longer part of the development agreement for the project. The Menominee tribe is seeking a new developer for the project, Dilweg said.

“The tribe is talking to other possible developers that have experience in casino and hotel development,” he said.

The tribe is also seeking financing for the project, which will not be locked in without government approvals, Dilweg said.


Meanwhile, another off-reservation casino project could be developed in Sheboygan.

According to recent reports in The Sheboygan Press, Claremont New Frontier Resort LLC, which bought the Blue Harbor Resort in early 2011, and the Sokaogon Chippewa Community of Mole Lake plan to develop a casino near the resort.

The Sheboygan Common Council recently approved plans to move forward with the sale of two acres of vacant land just northwest of the resort to Claremont New Frontier Resort, said city development manager Chad Pelishek. He declined to say what would be built on the site.

The Blue Harbor ownership group is considering several options for the site, said Pat Carney, vice president of Bridgewater, Mass.-based Claremont Companies Inc. A casino is one option, he said.

“We’re looking at all of the possibilities that we could do to attract people to the area,” Carney said. “People ask us all the time (about building a casino). It’s way too soon to say what’s going to happen.”

Other possibilities for the site include an expansion of the resort’s water park or a sports recreation facility, which could be combined with a similar nearby facility that closed a few years ago.

“I just makes sense having a vacant site so close, we want to control that land,” Carney said.

The resort is located on a peninsula between Lake Michigan and the Sheboygan River. However the city has struggled to attract additional development to the peninsula and the resort has struggled to attract guests because of a lack of attractions in Sheboygan. Some think a casino could provide a major boost to the resort and the city.

According to a Sheboygan Press report, the casino would have 120,000 square feet of space, 1,500 or more gaming machines, 24 gaming tables and a 1,000-space parking structure.

Just like the Kenosha project, a Sheboygan off-reservation casino would need the approval of the BIA and the governor.

Gov. Scott Walker has not indicated whether or not he would approve the casino projects.

“We’ll evaluate each project individually and only will do so, if necessary, after the BIA takes action,” said Cullen Werwie, Walker’s press secretary.

New casinos in Kenosha and Sheboygan could provide additional competition for Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee. The Forest County Potawatomi tribe has lobbied against the Kenosha casino project in the past.

The Menominee tribe’s market studies indicate that the market can support casinos in Milwaukee and Kenosha, Dilweg said.

“Our numbers showed there was more than enough business for two facilities to flourish,” he said. “(The Potawatomi tribe has) used the system to their advantage and now they want to deny others from doing the same.”

The Potawatomi feel that tribes should only be allowed to open off reservation casinos in Wisconsin on sites that a tribe has historical ties to, and the casino operations should only benefit Wisconsin tribes, said George Ermert, spokesman for the Potawatomi tribe.

Potawatomi hotel

The Potawatomi tribe is working on plans to build a hotel next to its casino in Milwaukee, according to several sources. The hotel would be built on a vacant lot southwest of West Canal Street and 16th Street.

One source said the tribe is considering plans for a 22-story, 400-room hotel.

Even if the tribe lost money operating the hotel, its likely purpose would be to get more gamblers to spend more time, and more money, in the casino.

A Potawatomi spokesman said the tribe has considered plans to build a hotel at the casino for years, but nothing is imminent.

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