Opinion by John Dalton, A Special to Kenosha County Eye
After nearly 20 years since the last casino was proposed to be built on the shuttered Dairyland Greyhound Dog Track with more than 220 acres, the City and County of Kenosha are now rushing to jam through two separate Intergovernmental Agreements (referred to as IGA’s) without any meaningful discussions with the public or elected officials and allow 60 acres of prime real estate along I-94 to be placed in Indian Trust and create a permanent reservation for the Menominee Tribe so they can build a 100,000 square foot box with 1,500 slot machines and 55 gaming tables and a massive parking lot for over 2,300 cars.
Here are photographs of the Hard Rock “box” that open in 2021 in Gary, Indiana and it is anticipated that the same warehouse will be built in Kenosha.
The proposed IGAs that the City and County are trying to rush through without the normal reviews by committees and hearings is at best, bad governance, or at worst, is this the Chicago Way moving north?
The number of Indian Reservation Casinos has exploded in the area over the past 20 years and there are now nearly 20 Indian Off-Reservation Casinos within an hour or so drive of Kenosha. The competition for casino revenue is at an all time high in our market but the government leaders do not appear to have hired any experts to figure out if this casino makes any sense or if it can generate the kind revenue that the Menominee and Seminole tribes are forecasting….or is this this just a great sales job by the tribes?
Any project of this magnitude that would be presented to any government body for approval would require an economic impact analysis, traffic impact analysis, a set of site, building, landscape and drainage plans, a developer’s agreement and an entire host of other related materials to evaluate such a large scale project. None of that has been presented or analyzed based on the materials that were made public less than 48 hours before council discusses the approval of this casino. Worse, the Menominee Tribe has the discretion to establish the design standards for traffic, drainage and other development requirements as the city has turned over that authority to the tribe.
How does anyone know if the traffic at this new location can support this project, or does even the economics of this deal make sense? 20 years ago, experts were hired by the government to evaluate all of this and they determined the economic impact and how to best protect the community and structure the deal. None of that was done now, so why the rush this approval now?
20 years ago, the IGA required the casino a guaranteed payment of $1 Million in each of the first 2 years. Today, the casino only has to pay $100,000 in the first 2 years. In contrast, real estate taxes on property worth $15 Million (the price the Casino is paying for the land) would be nearly $400,000. Why is the city giving the casino a huge tax break during the first two years? Moreover, all of us are keenly aware that $1 Million 20 years ago is not the same today given the crazy inflation we have been experiencing. So, why is the government giving this handout?
Moreover, the IGA does not require the casino to building anything more than a big warehouse for all of these slot machines and gaming tables. It gives the casino the option to build a theater and make other improvements on the property but only if the casino can obtain financing on reasonable terms. If interest rates and costs of construction continue to skyrocket, it is likely that nothing more will ever be built but this ugly warehouse and massive parking lot. Dairyland 2.0 come to mind?
If the casino makes a lot of money, the tribe will obviously continue to build but then how will that impact all of the hotels and restaurants that will have to compete with an Indian casino that pays no real estate and no sales taxes?
The IGA from 20 years ago required the casino to pay $500,000 each year to the KUSD and $500,000 to high school districts west of I-94. Now, the city will receive only $250,000 (and the western school district gets nothing) and the city gets determine where to spend the money for education. Sorry, KUSD & Central High School. Better start begging now.
In addition, 20 years ago, the casino would immediately pay $5,000,000 to support museums, the homeless, and other charitable purposes, but now they only have agreed to pay $500,000 per year after 3 years and only until year 12 for the same purposes. The House wins again.
The City and County are rushing through these IGA’s and giving up the right to force the Menominee Tribe to bring the entire development to the table after it has been thoroughly examined and presented. Let the public see it all, then vote it up or down. That would be transparent government. Instead, this is now the Chicago Way North.