Steven Walters

Walker Faces Tough Choice on Kenosha Casino

Any decision he makes will anger some, and could affect his potential run for president.

By - Sep 23rd, 2013 11:03 am

The 60-day deadline that Gov. Scott Walker set for a decision on the Menominee Tribe’s proposed Kenosha casino ends one month from today.

After the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs signed off on a Kenosha casino on Aug. 23, Walker said he wanted a decision within 60 days.

More importantly, Walker also set three conditions for its approval: It must have local support. It can’t increase “net” casino gaming – a term so fungible it allows Walker to write his own definition. And, there must be a “consensus” by Wisconsin’s 11 tribes for the Kenosha casino.

Developments since have put Walker in a box on the Kenosha casino.

How Walker climbs out of that box will have implications for his future, in terms of both his re-election bid next year and a potential run for President in 2016. It’s his next chance to make potent pre-election friends and enemies.

Why is the first-term governor boxed in on the Kenosha casino, which has the backing of area officials and, based on past referendums, local residents?

First, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and 15 Milwaukee-area Democratic legislators oppose it.

In their Sept. 10 letter to the governor, the 15 Democrats said a Kenosha casino would hurt the Milwaukee casino of the Potawatomi Tribe – a tribe they said has “helped create thousands of family-supporting jobs while investing in the community through diverse charitable giving.”

The Democrats then used the all-important “J” word: “Economic analysis by the City of County of Milwaukee found that the proposed casino could result in the loss of 3,000 direct and indirect jobs. Our community cannot afford to lose such a significant number of jobs.”

Kenosha’s Democratic senator, Bob Wirch, did not sign that letter. He supports the casino, whose backers use their own “J” word number: Building the Kenosha casino would create 3,300 new jobs.

Second, seven Republican legislators now support the Kenosha casino, and more are expected: Reps. Paul Tittl, of Manitowoc; David Craig, of Big Bend; Tyler August, of Lake Geneva; Thomas Weatherston, of Caledonia; Jeff Mursaw, of Crivitz; Samantha Kerkman, of Randall, and Gary Tauchen, of Bonduel.

Personal relationships can also be very important in these decisions.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos started his capitol career working for then-Republican Rep. Jim Ladwig, now the Kenosha County executive and a casino backer. When Jim Ladwig left the Assembly, Vos worked for his wife, Rep. Bonnie Ladwig, who then held that Assembly seat.

And, another key Republican, Senate President Mike Ellis, thinks Walker is wrong to lay out conditions before the Menominee Tribe gets the Kenosha casino.

Ellis said the marketplace should decide whether a Kenosha casino is viable; a CVS pharmacy doesn’t get to decide how close to it a new Walgreen’s can be built, for example.

Ellis, facing a tough re-election next year in which he will be criticized as a rubber-stamp yes for Walker’s controversial changes to collective bargaining and expanding School Choice, wants to be able to list his disagreements with the governor.

Third, the three tribes with the most profitable casinos – Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk and Oneida – won’t agree to the Kenosha casino. The eight other tribes, including the Menominee, have asked Walker to approve it.

In a WisconsinEye interview, Walker made it clear that a “consensus – not a majority” of the 11 tribes must back the Kenosha casino for it to be approved.

In the new second edition of her book, Indian Nations of Wisconsin, UW-Madison Professor Patty Loew summarized that stalemate this way:

“Tribes that perceive themselves economically to be the ‘have nots’ continue to press for off-reservation casinos efforts that will undoubtedly meet resistance from Native nations with existing gaming operations in the area.”

Loew, a former Wisconsin Public Television host, is a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. She said she’s now an “advocate” on tribal issues.

In a WisconsinEye interview last week, Loew called Walker’s three conditions “a successful attempt by state government to drive a wedge between the tribes.”

“To say, ‘Sure, I’ll support this casino, but you have to give one up and you all have to agree – that’s not going to happen,” she said.

But Kenosha casino backers are quietly saying something else: We still have a month to go.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email

6 thoughts on “Walker Faces Tough Choice on Kenosha Casino”

  1. Ty Webb says:

    “The Democrats then used the all-important “J” word: “Economic analysis by the City of County of Milwaukee found that the proposed casino could result in the loss of 3,000 direct and indirect jobs. Our community cannot afford to lose such a significant number of jobs.”

    So, are the poor Potawotomi going to have to layoff thousands in Milwaukee due to a new casino in Kenosha? Please. The state desperately needs new jobs anyplace and this is one opportunity for it. Plus we could have so much development around there too, unlike around Potawotomi. This is pretty silly for Milwaukee Democrats to be so upset. And frankly, who really cares what Tom Barrett and other ‘Milwaukee leaders’ say anyway? They need to focus on making the city safe and fixing the schools. Ask Barrett if they extend the Streetcar to Kenosha maybe he’d support it then. If they want to build it, let them build it and see what happens. Walker should stop worrying that all the casino money is going to go against him when he runs next year. Build the casino, see what happens.

  2. jimspice says:

    The big push from Enough Already WI against the casino might shed some light on the issue of who stands where. Though its website registration info is hidden behind a privacy service, the other websites hosted on that same server (discoverable by reverse IP lookup) seem to indicate (R) fingers in the cookie jar; VanHollen, Vukmir, Ryan, Waukesha County GOP, and longtime GOP PR guru Bill McCoshen’s lobbying firm. McCoshen is no stranger to the Kenosha casino saga, though, if connected to this newest anti-gambling campaign, his allegiances seem to have shifted (

  3. TacoLoco says:

    Its not up to Scott Walker, he needs the Koch Brothers’ permission to make such a major decision.

  4. Governor Walker doesn’t actually mean a majority when he says consensus…he means unanimous approval…unless he’s changed his mind since earlier this year:

    “Most notably, Walker said consensus among the state’s tribes — one of the three criteria he has referenced in the past — would mean approval from all 11 of the state’s tribes.”

  5. jerry person says:

    A Kenosha Casino would hurt the GOP. The group that has pushed the casino gave millions to the state democrats. Troha the casino mafia leader threw his connections with Robert & Beverly Jambois they handed out illegal campign money for years to the Doyle administration. The Jambois worked directly for the Troha mafia for years. Jambois collected a state salary and worked as Troha`s personal attorney for months in Pennsylvania and Washington DC. Beverly and their daughter also received a troha pay check. Beverly made as much as $12000 per month. Doyle and Troha were indited on illegal campaign money and sending state employees to do work for one person in other states. This and received the protected treatment just like Scott walker did in his John Doe sceem. Jambois is still working for the mafia. He is FAKE DEMOCRAT Peter Barca`s chief of staff now.

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