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Walker delays decision on Kenosha casino

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TODD RICHMOND | October 25, 2013 01:23 PM EST | AP


MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker decided Friday to delay his announcement on whether he will approve the Menominee Nation's plans for a new $800 million casino in Kenosha.

Walker's administration had said he planned to make a decision by the end of the week, but spokesman Tom Evenson said Friday morning that the governor is still reviewing the proposal. He said a decision could come as early as next week though Walker hasn't set a timetable.

Menominee Chairman Craig Corn said he's glad Walker is taking the time to do his due diligence.

"The Menominee's pleas and concerns must have got through to him," Corn said. "It speaks volumes for his leadership ... we remain cautiously optimistic. We're saying our prayers and putting down tobacco to the creator."

The Menominee have been pushing for years to open an off-reservation casino in Kenosha, saying it will help pull their people out of poverty. The U.S. Department of the Interior gave the tribe the go-ahead in August but federal law grants Walker the final say.

The tribe has brokered an agreement with gambling and entertainment company Hard Rock International to manage the facility and has promised it would create about 3,300 permanent jobs and provide $35 million in annual payments to the state.

But Walker, a Republican, has said he won't approve the project, slated to be built at the old Dairyland Greyhound dog track, unless it meets three criteria. The casino must have community support, it can't create any new net gambling in the state and all 10 of Wisconsin's other tribes must sign off.

But the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Forest County Potawatomi, which operate their own lucrative casinos in Wisconsin, have repeatedly said they oppose competition in Kenosha.

The Menominee still gave the governor their final proposal Tuesday, saying it has met his requirements.

Menominee officials said they have support from local government officials as well as a number of southeastern Wisconsin legislators. They also noted Kenosha County residents approved the project in a 2004 referendum. Tribal leaders also promised the new casino wouldn't increase gambling because they would close a small casino/bingo hall on their reservation in Keshena and the casino would be located at the dog track, where gambling had taken place.

As for tribal consensus, the Menominee argued the Ho-Chunk and the Potawatomi effectively support the plan because they signed gambling compacts with the state that require each tribe to be made financially whole if they lose money to a new casino. The Menominee also offered to pay more than their promised 7.5 percent of net winnings to the state in order to offset losses if the Potawatomi and the Ho-Chunk pay less.

Ho-Chunk President Jon Greendeer reiterated in a telephone interview with the AP on Friday that his tribe remains steadfastly opposed to the project. He rejected the Menominee's assertion that the compact language amounts to approval.

"Just because you buy insurance for certain catastrophes doesn't mean you're consenting to those catastrophes taking place," Greendeer said.

The governor needs to make a decision quickly, Greendeer said, because delaying the announcement generates false hope for the Menominee, raises questions about the governor's decisiveness and prevents all the tribes from moving on.

The Potawatomi released a short statement saying they remain opposed to the project and are disappointed Walker has delayed his decision.