The Kenosha City Council approved an intergovernmental agreement for a proposed Menominee Tribe casino on Kenosha’s west side on Monday night. Alderpersons voted 11-6 at a three hour meeting in front of a large crowd. The Yes votes were alders Bill Siel, Rocco LaMacchia, Brandi Ferree, Keith Rosenberg, Anthony Kennedy, Rollin Pizzala, Ruth Dyson, Curt Wilson, Dan Prozanski, Jack Rose and David Bogdala. The No votes were Eric Haugaard, Jan Michalski, Holly Kangas, Kelly MacKay, David Mau and Dominic Ruffalo.
During public comments, some citizens were opposed based on the social impact, including increased crime and gambling addiction. Others voiced concern about property values and taxes and hurting downtown businesses. Some alderpersons and citizens said they were uncomfortable with the lack of transparency and public input. The alderman of the district where the casino will be, Dominic Ruffalo, stated that he requested information but never received it, such as a traffic study.
Many of those in support cited the jobs the project will bring to the area. Members of construction unions and representatives of the Menominee Tribe also spoke in favor of the plan. There was support for the possibility of a concert venue, restaurant and hotel. The Menominee Tribe has verbally agreed to make the casino a Hard Rock Cafe, so that corporation from Florida would operate as the developer and manager.
However, critics pointed out that the contract doesn’t require the Hard Rock portion. They said we might end up with just a warehouse with slot machines, without the Hard Rock or hotel. Alderwoman Holly Kangas said Hard Rock has a history of not following through on promises and gave an example where it happened in another city. Alderman Kelly MacKay said we should be supporting our local musicians and venues instead of a large corporation from out of town, as well as being concerned about the social impact. Alderman Dave Mau disapproved of the government sanctioning a vice through a big corporation, and favoring one business over another.
The Potawatomi Tribe also opposed it. The tribe claims Kenosha as part of their ancestral land. Tribe spokesman George Ermert said they’re against a company “…from Florida with no connection to Wisconsin coming into our state and taking millions of dollars and bringing it back to Florida.”
The project is proposed on 60 acres of city land just west of I-94 and south of 60th Street (Hwy K). Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Menominee tribe can buy off-reservation land and put it in a Federal trust to operate casinos there. Trust land and reservation land are basically the same in the eyes of the law, according to Potawatomi Nation tribal historic preservation officer Kelli Mosteller, Ph.D. She is also the Executive Director of the Harvard University Native American Program. The land will be under the control of the tribe and the federal government. “The city, county and state don’t have [much] say over trust land.”
The property will be exempt from local taxes, however the City negotiated payments of around 3% from the “net win” gaming revenue. Hard Rock expects $250 million in revenue. Even if there’s not enough revenue from gaming, the contract still requires a minimum payment of $100,000 for the first 2 years, and gradually increases to $2.5 million by year 9.
Critics referenced what the contract says the money is for: “The City requires additional financial resources to provide for the increased demand for a complete range of municipal services. There will be additional burdens on the city infrastructure; there will be economic, social and other impacts stemming from the effect of gaming activities”. Finance Chair Dan Prozanski praised the potential financial gains for the city, as did Mayor John Antaramian. Alderman Anthony Kennedy said he believes the casino will “improve the quality of life” for his constituents.
Alderman Dave Bogdala passed an amendment to the contract to prevent any city elected official from taking a job with the casino. However, Alderman Dave Mau asked the city attorney if the amendment didn’t actually prevent corruption because Hard Rock is not in the contract, so an elected official could indeed take a job at Hard Rock. City Attorney Matt Knight replied that was correct.
The last public vote for a casino was 20 years ago in 2004. Governor Tony Evers also needs to approve the plan moving forward. The Kenosha County Board will also hold a vote on January 16th, but the tribe has stated that the casino can still happen even if the County votes No.