Tribes poised to ‘build Wisconsin’

However, short-term compacts could be roadblock

"We’re talking about hotels, nursing homes, water parks, sewer systems, water supply systems," said Tom Krajewski, spokesman for the Forest County Potawatomi Community.
"Schools, water towers, roads, houses, resorts and industrial parks could be built off of reservation land," said Jeff Crawford, attorney general for the Potawatomi.
The Potawatomi, which operates the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley, is eager to "build Wisconsin," Crawford said.
The catch? The Native American tribes in Wisconsin say they need long-term gaming compacts from the state to enable them to obtain long-term financing that would bring about the development.
"The problem right now in Wisconsin is that a tribe cannot get long-term financing because they can’t get long-term compacts," Krajewski said. "A bank is going to say, ‘What’s your collateral? Your collateral is your compact.’"
The benefits to the state for longer Indian gaming compacts were outlined in March in a report compiled on behalf of United Tribes of Wisconsin, which represents 11 tribes, including the Potawatomi.
The report, "An Economic Strategy to Maximize the Participation of Native American Tribal Governments in the Wisconsin Economy," stated, "It is estimated that over the next three years, tribes could invest more than $600 million in economic development and infrastructure needs that would have an economic impact on the Wisconsin economy in excess of $1.1 billion."
The report, which was compiled by economist Michael Evans, noted that Wisconsin’s Indian gaming compacts are limited to five years in length under current state law.
Tribes in other states, including Minnesota, often have compacts of 20 to 30 years, making it difficult for Wisconsin’s tribes to tap into the economic development potential of their capital, the report stated.
"The limitation on tribal long-term financing creates an enormous opportunity cost for the state of Wisconsin," the report stated. "These investments would enable tribes to diversify their economic base and build community infrastructure."
With extended compacts, Wisconsin’s tribes would be ready, willing and able to make substantial investments throughout the state and southeastern Wisconsin, Crawford said.
The investments would benefit more than the tribes, Crawford said. Since the new projects would not be casinos, they could be developed on land that is not owned by the reservations, he said.
"The Potawatomi want to diversify. The money would be reinvested in ways that have nothing to do with gaming," Crawford said. "None of the tribes are interested in relying solely on gaming for income."
Once the tribes identified the real estate developments they would pursue, they would partner with Wisconsin financial institutions and developers to bring the projects to fruition, he said.
Local companies, large and small, would be needed to build, design and staff the projects, Krajewski said.
"What difference does it make in growing Wisconsin? The boundaries of the reservation are quite porous when it comes to money," Krajewski said. "The money flows in and flows out just as quickly."
"There are things that are in planning stages, but have no way of being funded. We would partner with existing developers. We would bring the capital," Crawford said.
Crawford pointed to the impact of the Potawatomi Bingo Casino on the Menomonee River Valley, where the tribe has invested $120 million and is playing a key role in extending Canal Street from the new Sixth Street bridge to Miller Park.
The tribe has purchased three parcels adjacent to the casino and is interested in further developing the Menomonee River Valley, Crawford said.
"Ten years ago, when we first located here, the valley was really a dump," Crawford said. "Part of what we’re doing here is to try to stretch the city limits to the valley. People think of (Interstate) 794 as an artificial barrier, that that’s where the downtown ends. Realistically, the downtown has to grow."
The tribes have a vested interest in the health of the city’s economy, Crawford said.
"Nobody would want to have a casino in a city that is not healthy, business-wise," he said.
The Potatwatomi are often approached to become involved in various development projects in southeastern Wisconsin, but they are unable to pursue the opportunities, because the short-term compacts prevent them from obtaining long-term financing, Crawford said.
"I can’t tell you about the deals that have been pitched to us, but I can tell you that on a daily basis, there are deals pitched to us," Crawford said.
The Potawatomi’s current compact will expire in 2004.
The length of Wisconsin’s Indian gaming compacts ultimately could be determined by the Nov. 5 governor’s race.
Republican Gov. Scott McCallum believes the state should receive a larger share of the tribes’ total gaming revenues, according to McCallum campaign spokeswoman Debbie Monterrey-Millet.
With the current compacts, the state receives about $24 million, or 2%, of the tribes’ combined annual revenues, Monterrey-Millet said.
When asked whether McCallum would consider extending the lengths of the compacts in exchange for a larger share of the revenues, Monterrey-Millet said, "He will be negotiating. He will do what he feels is best for the taxpayers of Wisconsin."
"That’s code for ‘if you’re going to build something I like, OK – If you’re going to build something I don’t like, not OK,’" said Krajewski.
Indian tribes in Michigan pay only 2% of the revenues to the state, while tribes in Minnesota pay less than 1%, Krajewski said. Those states also have longer compact terms, more gaming options and fewer gaming restrictions, he said.
McCallum’s Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jim Doyle, believes the state should extend the lengths of its Indian gaming compacts, Doyle campaign spokesman John Kraus said.
"Jim believes that it’s reasonable to extend the lengths of the gaming compacts. He sees no reason to believe the casinos we have here today will be going away in five years, that Indian gaming is here to stay," Kraus said.
"Unlike Gov. McCallum, Jim Doyle does not base his plan to plug the (budget) deficit with money that isn’t here today," Kraus said.
However, Doyle has not indicated with any certainty whether or not he would demand the state take a larger share of the tribes’ annual revenues, in exchange for granting longer compacts, Kraus said.
"Jim Doyle has accepted the notion that gaming is here to stay and realizes the value of long-term compacts," Krajewski said.

Oct. 25, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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