KENOSHA — Gov. Scott Walker’s rejection of the proposed Kenosha casino Friday prompted anger from Racine- and Kenosha-area officials.
In rejecting the casino, Walker cited the project’s potential hit to the state budget, which he has said is due to compacts former Gov. Jim Doyle negotiated with the Forest County Potawatomi. The compacts called for the tribe to be reimbursed for losses incurred because of a new casino.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, blamed Doyle for creating a “no-win situation.”
But Vos, who is close with the governor, also said Walker made the wrong decision.
“Every once in a while, even somebody that you’re really good friends with gets it wrong,” Vos said at a press conference Friday at the Ives Grove Office Complex, 14200 Washington Ave. “And this is a prime example.”
Officials with the Menominee Nation and Hard Rock International, which would have operated the facility, had touted the creation of 3,000 jobs at the proposed facility and more than 7,000 indirect jobs, such as construction work and jobs on the Menominee reservation.
Racine County officials backed the project after promises from the Menominee tribe that the casino would employ at least 15 percent of its workers from Racine County. A similar number of construction jobs were expected to go to Racine County residents.
The Menominee tribe’s facility would have included a casino, hotel, spa and concert venue. The Menominee had promised to cover the state for any losses incurred due to the Potawatomi compacts.
Walker under fire
Several Democrats and a top Menominee official questioned whether Walker’s presidential ambitions played a role in his choice, in the wake of media reports this week. According to those reports, some social conservatives in Iowa, which plays an outsized role in presidential nominations due to its early caucus, urged Walker to deny the project based on the harmful effects they say are caused by gambling.
Walker told reporters the timing of his decision had nothing to do with politics, according to an Associated Press report.
Menominee Chairwoman Laurie Boivin said the Potawatomi’s opposition and Walker’s goal of becoming president “has led to a no for our people.”
She said the tribe will evaluate potential next steps.
“Until then — we must remember all the Menominee Nation has overcome in more than 10,000 years — we will continue to thrive as a nation and will continue to be honorable partners for Indian tribes in Wisconsin and around the nation,” she said.
The Potawatomi tribe was a leading opponent against the Kenosha project, fearing it would cut profits at its Milwaukee casino. The tribe also argued hundreds of millions from Kenosha would go to Hard Rock’s headquarters in Florida.
Potawatomi Attorney General Jeff Crawford said that “Walker and his administration gave the Kenosha casino project a thorough review, and we agree with his determination that this project is not in the best interest of Wisconsin.”
A spokesman said the Potawatomi would not comment further Friday.
The conservative group Wisconsin Family Action, which opposed the casino, also applauded Walker’s decision, saying a “new casino is a bad bet for families.”
Local officials believed the economic impact and jobs that would have been created by the project outweighed the potential risk.
Vos said his phone lit up with calls from residents who used “words that I won’t put on television for what they want me to tell Governor Walker.”
“For anybody to not understand the depth of the frustration and the disappointment and the anger for people who live in Racine, Kenosha and our area, it’s hopefully going to become evident over time,” Vos said.
State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, called the news “heartbreaking” and “shocking.”
“Clearly, the governor no longer has jobs and tourism at the top of his priority list,” he said in a call with reporters.
Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, said the “Hard Rock and Menominee stepped up to every challenge and then some. This is terribly sad news for the 8,958 members of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin.”
Some still upbeat
Despite the rejection, local officials are still optimistic about economic development opportunities.
Jim Ladwig, who as Racine County executive negotiated the county’s jobs agreement with the Menominee, said he was disappointed with the outcome but believes the area remains poised for more job growth.
“From a business perspective, we still have a lot to offer in Racine County and southeastern Wisconsin,” said Ladwig, who is now president of Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce. “We look forward to attracting more businesses to the area which will bring different jobs to Racine County.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, whose district includes Racine and Kenosha counties, echoed that sentiment.
“Though I’ve expressed support for this project in the past, this issue falls under the jurisdiction of the state government,” Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement to The Journal Times. “The decision is disappointing, but I know community leaders in Kenosha will lead the way to grow our economy and create jobs.”