As Gov. Scott Walker wrestles with the Menominee tribe’s proposed casino in Kenosha, the debate continues over whether such a plan would be good for southeastern Wisconsin.
The tribe wants to build an $808-million casino development at the site of the former Dairyland Greyhound Dog Track. According to the project’s website, the complex would feature 3,100 slot machines and 75 gaming tables, along with restaurants, an upscale hotel and a 5,000-seat multipurpose entertainment facility. Tribe officials claim the plan would create 5,000 direct and in-direct jobs in the area.
However, the governor must approve the measure first. Walker maintains that there must be unanimous consensus among the state’s 11 tribes. The Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk, which operate large casinos in southern Wisconsin, are steadfastly opposed to the project, saying it will cost them thousands of jobs. Walker also insists that there be no net increase in gambling.
Julaine Appling, president of the conservative Wisconsin Family Action, said Walker needs to stick to his word.
“I think the governor very clearly laid out criteria for this and I think he needs to stick to those criteria,” said Appling, on Wednesday morning’s “Big Question” segment. “Hold the line on that.”
However, state Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha, who appeared on the program with Appling, said Walker’s standards are laughable.
“It’s kind of seen as a joke in Kenosha, quite frankly,” said Wirch. “It’s like if you wanted to open up a grocery store, you’d have to have all your competitors -- other grocery stores -- agree. For a governor who says he’s a conservative Republican, who says he’s for free enterprise, to put up barriers like that, I think is just wrong and contradictory for him to do.”
Wirch supports the casino project and said residents want it, too. In a nonbinding referendum in 2004, voters in Kenosha County gave it the thumbs up, 56 to 44 percent. Further, in 1998, voters in the city of Kenosha voted 57 to 43 percent against a referendum to ban casino gambling.
Wirch also said that with the unemployment rate in the district at about 11 percent, this is not the time to turn away jobs.
“I am not a gambler,” said Wirch. “I’m an advocate for these jobs because I’ve always said that a job is the best social program and it will help our area.”
Appling is opposed to the plan. She said she supports job creation, but that it’s not worth the higher rates of crimes, including grand larceny, break-ins and embezzlement, that she said typically come with casinos. She also said gaming opens the door to gambling addictions, which negatively affects families in terms of additional stress, strains on resources and divorce.
“When you have a new casino, you’re upping the ante -- excuse the pun there -- that you’re going to get more people with those problems,” said Appling.
But Wirch sees it a different way.
“The genie is out of the bottle,” said Wirch. “First of all, if you look around Kenosha, almost every gas station, every bar has gambling machines in them.”
He said that’s the case throughout the state.
Appling said she agreed with Wirch on the proliferation of gambling across Wisconsin, but that casinos are different from a gas station with slot machines in that they become a “part and parcel of the community.”
Appling also said the issue of land ownership hasn’t received much attention so far, but is something that needs to be strongly considered.
“Once Kenosha turns that land over to the Menominee tribe, it is theirs in perpetuity,” said Appling. “That land is under the national sovereignty of the tribe. It’s not going back to Kenosha proper.”
Appling predicts the casino project would lead to more tribes building off-reservation casinos in other parts of Wisconsin.
Wirch argued that the Dairyland Dog Track site is a “white elephant” in Kenosha and since it’s not being used for anything anyway, it makes sense to turn it into something with economic potential.
“We are a border community with Illinois, and the rumblings in this area are if we don’t build it here, they’ll build it in Waukegon, right over the state line,” said Wirch. “We would rather have those jobs and the money here in Wisconsin.”