Wisconsin Tribe Moves Forward With Hard Rock Casino Plans In Kenosha

Written By J.R. Duren on December 29, 2022
Hard Rock Casino Coming to Kenosha

Seven years ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker rejected a tribal proposal for a Kenosha casino.

That tribe, the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, refused to give up. And now, seven years later, they’re moving forward with plans to build a Hard Rock Casino in Kenosha. The tribe and the city are meeting next month to discuss the project.

Menominee Chairman Ron Corn Sr. told local media that the tribe is struggling. Revenue from a casino would be a huge help to its people.

“The Menominee have a whole lot of unmet needs here on the reservation as it comes to health, education, housing—all those things that governments look to provide for their people,” he said. “The additional revenue would assist us in meeting that need.”

But building the casino is easier said than done. It’s located on non-tribal land. Therefore, the Menominee must go through a longer-than-normal process to get federal approval.

Hard Rock still on board after Walker rejection

The Menominee tribe and Hard Rock have partnered for their first Kenosha casino proposal. Walker’s rejection in 2015 was a devastating blow. However, the two parties are back at the table again. They announced their renewed partnership in July.

What makes this new push for a casino different from the last one? In general, the gaming landscape in America has changed drastically. The repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018 opened the country to a new wave of gaming.

Additionally, public support of gaming has increased over the past seven years. That doesn’t mean that new casinos and sports betting apps are a guarantee, though. Californians rejected a pair of sports betting proposals last month.

However, the Menominee tribe’s new project is on the right path. Kenosha’s city leaders support the project.

New project is scaled back, state’s liability decreased

Another thing working in the tribe’s favor is the scope of the new project. The new casino is considerably smaller than the 2015 proposal. For example, the tribe plans to build on 60 acres of land now. In 2015, they wanted to build on more than 200 acres of land.

That reduced size could be a selling point for Kenosha residents. Often, criticism of new casinos focuses on increased traffic and crime, as well as calls to use land and city money for other purposes.

Another benefit? An October report from the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau said the new project would reduce the state’s liability compared to the previous proposal.  Basically, in 2015, the state would’ve been on the hook for a $243 million payment to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation if the Kenosha casino cut into the Potawatomi’s profits from its Milwaukee casino.

However, a 2018 compact update between the state and the Potawatomi eliminated that liability.

So, it’s assumed that the governor would be more likely to sign off on the Menominee casino because of the state’s reduced liability.

What’s next for the Kenosha casino?

The idea of a Kenosha Hard Rock is an exciting one. However, it’s not going to be a reality for a while.

The tribe must work out an agreement with the city. It also needs federal approval, which could take years. For example, the last casino proposal took the Department of Interior nearly a decade to approve.

Why the excruciatingly long wait? Because the casino is on non-tribal land, it needs to go through an entirely different approval process. The land goes into a federal trust. Because of that, multiple departments on the federal, state, and local level are heavily involved. And that involvement creates a web of red tape.

However, lawmakers are optimistic about the Kenosha casino. After the report from the legislative reference bureau came out, two state senators voiced their support based on the state’s reduced liability.

“The time has come to move the Kenosha casino project forward and approve it,” State senators Bob Wirch and VanWanggaard said in a statement. “It’s good for Kenosha; it’s good for Wisconsin; and it’s good for the Menominee Tribe. This is an exciting economic development opportunity, and this new analysis provides more support for putting a shovel in the ground.”

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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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