Build It - And Jobs Will Come
As I was cleaning out my desk last week, I found a pair of souvenir tickets from the Opening Weekend at Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha - June 1-3, 1990.
Upon opening, Dairyland became one of the largest dog tracks in the country and was, for a short while, a license to print money. Unfortunately for its operators however, the gambling landscape in Wisconsin quickly changed when a Federal Judge based out of Madison gave Indian tribes throughout Wisconsin the ability to open casinos. For better or worse, Indian gaming quickly proved to be the undoing of all Wisconsin dog tracks (as well as lots of bingo operations run by churches and various non-profit groups).
Now, the U.S. Department of the Interior has given the Menominee tribe the go-ahead to acquire the Dairyland property in Kenosha and open a casino. Estimates are that a new casino would result in approximately 3300 permanent jobs, 1400 construction jobs and almost 2000 additional jobs in the immediate Kenosha area.
So, why wouldn't Governor Walker - who now is the ultimate decision maker - say "yes" to the proposal? Good question!
The major roadblock to a casino in Kenosha is the Forest County Potawatomi tribe which operates an extremely successful casino in Milwaukee. Since the general rule is that gamblers don't drive past one casino to get to another, the Potawatomi are concerned that a casino in Kenosha will siphon off a portion of their $360-plus million in yearly gambling revenue.
This may, to a point, be a valid concern. At the same time, who cares?
I believe that the Potawatomi are fine corporate citizens who run a first-class operation. That said, why should any Indian tribe have an exclusive monopoly on gambling in the lucrative Southeastern Wisconsin market? If a new casino in Kenosha is determined to be good for the economy of Kenosha, good for gamblers because of competition, and ultimately good for the State - green lighting the project should be a no-brainer.
Still, I think there's less than a 25% chance that the new casino gets built.
Largely as a result of a two decade monopoly on casino gaming in Southeast Wisconsin, the Potawatomi have become a powerful political force. In 2002, tribal interests spent over $450,000 to help elect Governor Doyle and other Democrats perceived to be sympathetic to their interests. In 2006, the Potawatomi gave the Doyle re-election campaign a huge shot in the arm by pouring at least $1 million into the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a left-wing attack group.
As an aside, the Potawatomi are also partially responsible for what I consider to be one of the most amazing flip-flops in Wisconsin political history. As Attorney General, Jim Doyle preached relentlessly against the evils of casino gambling. As Governor, Jim Doyle welcomed expanded gambling by Indian tribes as Wisconsin welcomes Spring.
I'm sure the campaign donations and Doyle's attitude change were merely coincidental. I'd also guess that the Potawatomi are about to become Governor Walker's best friends.
Governor Walker has somewhat painted himself into a corner by saying that he' wants to see a consensus among Indian tribes on the question of expanded off-reservation gaming. In this regard, I guess it's possible that the Menominee might be able to strike a deal and essentially buy off the other tribes. Unless the other tribes have no choice however, I don't see this option as likely.
I don't know for certain how this will all play out. I do know however that the Potawatomi casino in Milwaukee will continue to do just fine whether or not there's a casino in Kenosha.
And if we do allow a casino to be built in Kenosha, I have no doubt that jobs will come.
And that would be a god thing!