KENOSHA — With Racine’s unemployment ranked the worst in the state, a new casino in Kenosha County “may be a shot in the arm,” County Supervisor and Racine Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II said at a recent county meeting.
For years, discussion about a new Menominee Nation Casino in Kenosha has been on the table.
If it is approved, it would employ an estimated 3,100 people, and put another 1,400 to work during three to four years of construction, said Eric Olson, the tribe’s Kenosha project director. If completed, the casino intended for the old Dairyland Greyhound Park would hold 12 to 14 bars and restaurants, include a 400-room hotel and entertain people in a 5,000-seat arena, Olson said.
The tribe’s application had previously been rejected by the federal government near the end of President George W. Bush’s administration because of a rule that required the casino to be in “commutable distance” of their reservation. Kenosha is about 200 miles from the Menominee’s Shawano reservation. But that rule was repealed last summer, and the tribe is now in the process of applying again for what Olson said would be “the biggest single job-creator project in Wisconsin right now.”
Tom Thieding, spokesman for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the state’s former Department of Commerce, said Olson’s jobs claim sounds accurate.
In comparison, the state’s largest job projects over the last year or so were estimated to create about 1,000 jobs.
At a county finance meeting last week when the casino came up, Shakoor said, “Racine County should do whatever it can (to help).”
But County Executive Jim Ladwig said he wants more of a concrete jobs promise for Racine County before expressing support.
He said he has been asked for a letter of support, but is waiting for a promise including more of a set number or percentage of jobs.
Olson said job options will go to members of the tribe first, then former Dairyland employees and Kenosha County residents, and third to Racine County residents.
Olson, who has met with Ladwig, said it’s hard to nail down a set percentage for Racine County, but “it’s something we are discussing.”
The project director wants to work with both the city and county to help Racine County residents apply for jobs and said he is planning on meeting with Racine Mayor John Dickert in the next few weeks. Olson said the tribe doesn’t need a letter of support from Racine County officials, but he would like one.
However, even if Racine County and the city do express support, the project still needs federal approval and then state support from the governor.
Julie Lund, Gov. Scott Walker’s deputy communications director, said if the proposal goes to the governor, “at that time, the governor will evaluate the proposal carefully.”
“He has always been clear that his criteria for new casinos includes community approval, consensus among Wisconsin’s tribal governments and whether it would lead to a significant net expansion of gaming in Wisconsin,” Lund said in an emailed statement.
Based on the governor’s statement, Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Walker is basically saying he will not support it. Asking for a consensus of tribal groups to give their approval, “that would be like asking JC Penney and Sears if they want a Kohl’s across the street. No,” Barca said.
But first it must go to the federal government.
Rory Dilweg, the tribe’s attorney, said he anticipates getting approval easily from the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs regional office, but he said, “Once it gets to D.C., it’s anyone’s guess.”
Olson, however, is optimistic, considering the Department of the Interior has approved three applications similar to the Menominee application in the last year in California and Oregon.