Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Potawatomi Plays Hardball

Gov. Walker delayed decision on Kenosha casino, so tribe is delaying $25 million payment owed to state.

By - Aug 27th, 2014 11:14 am

The news that the Potawatomi tribe is withholding money it owes to the state is the latest twist in the ever-turning tale of whether a Kenosha casino will be approved.

Bedroom with a view at new Potawatomi Hotel. Photo taken by Brett Kihlmire.

Bedroom with a view at new Potawatomi Hotel. Photo taken by Brett Kihlmire.

The new casino had been proposed by the Menomonee tribe and approved by federal officials, but was adamantly opposed by the Potawatomi tribe, which argued it would take away business from its Milwaukee casino. By law the governor has the power to approve or deny the proposal, and Scott Walker, as I’ve written, seemed very shrewd in his handling of the request. Declaring that he should not have “to play King Solomon” and “pick and choose between two well-respected entities here in the state of Wisconsin,” he called on the 11 tribes in Wisconsin to reach an agreement among themselves and said he would support that.

Of course, as every insider knew, the Potawatomi was unlikely to ever agree to reach any agreement, so Walker’s idealistic sounding decision really meant the Kenosha casino would never get approved.

Then a funny thing happened. Walker did nearly a complete flip-flop, announcing he would have to give the issue a long and detailed study. He would would delay any decision until after the November 2014, which would give him a year, or about four times longer than he needed to make all the countless decisions needed to craft his first and epic two-year budget. Suddenly the decision wouldn’t be decided by a unanimous agreement of the 11 tribes. Why the change in position?

The delay meant the well-funded Potawatomi tribe would have every reason to make campaign donations to Walker, in hopes of influencing his decision. It would also please Republican politicians in the Kenosha and Racine area, like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who supported the casino. But the key reason for the switch, as I’ve written previously, was that conservative talk radio host Mark Belling had been pummeling Walker for not supporting the new casino, accusing him of doing so to gain campaign donations from the Potawatomi. Also supporting the Kenosha casino were radio talkers Jeff Wagner, Jay Weber and Vicki McKenna, who is based in Madison.

Indeed, Charlie Sykes felt compelled to rush to Walker’s defense, reportedly bashing Belling for making “toxic,” “dangerous,” and “over-the-top” remarks. (The dustup dramatized the difference between the far-more-independent Belling and the more predictable Sykes, who almost always defends Republican dogma.)

So insiders assumed Walker would please Belling and eventually approve the Kenosha casino. But in the latest twist, the Potawatomi has withheld $25 million owed to the state. The tribe argues the compact agreements it signed with Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle call for it to be reimbursed for losses resulting from a new tribal competitor. The Potawatomi “appears to believe it could recover about $100 million from the state,” Walker has written to legislators, and the tribe announced it has therefore put $25 million owed to the state into a “segregated/reserve account” pending settlement of the issue.

The legal situation here is “clear as mud,” as one unnamed source muttered to the Journal Sentinel. But the story also revealed that an agreement was reached with the Ho Chunk nation, which operates a casino in Wisconsin Dells and was the other tribe opposing the Kenosha proposal. The Ho-Chunk’s payments to the state would decline by the amount it loses in revenue because of the competition from Kenosha.

That provides a possible model for a contract that might be signed with the Potawatomi. But that tribe has considerable financial and political clout and might hold out for a better deal.

The issue, in short, is the sort of political hot potato both Walker and his Democratic opponent Mary Burke are likely to avoid taking any position on. Should Walker be reelected, what will he decide? That may well depend on what Belling, a big fan of gambling, thinks is the best way to go.

Potawatomi Hotel Photo Gallery

8 thoughts on “Back in the News: Potawatomi Plays Hardball”

  1. Jake formerly if the LP says:

    Of course Walker held up his decision in order to shake down both sides for campaign donations! And now that Potawatomi called his bluff, he’s trying to misdirect his blunder onto Doyle.

    The other amazing part is that Walker is claiming $25 million is going to throw a $30 BILLION General Fund budget into chaos. Makes you wonder just how much of a deficit those stupid tax cuts caused, doesn’t it? Those of you in Milwaukee know this routine well.

  2. David Ciepluch says:

    This is what happens when government is in bed with the gambling industry. In Las Vegas they have even cleansed the “gambling” name to call it the gaming industry. This is somehow supposed to sanitize a life sucking business.

    I am not opposed to gambling for entertainment and people that can afford and control their desires, but there are far too many losers that choose to spend their money on gambling instead of family needs. This lowers the quality of life opportunity for many children. Gambling does not create any new jobs. It is just a parasite on the larger community that serves as a host.

    I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to have dinner with retired Senator Gaylord Nelson at Potawatomi near the end of his life. I asked him what he thought of the complex. He looked at me sternly and as I recall said “Government is nothing but a bunch of whores for getting involved in gambling.”.

    I do give credit to the Potatwatomi and First Nation People for taking what was considered one of the worst pieces of real estate, in likely the worst location in Wisconsin at the time, and taking it from a mere bingo hall to the cash cow it is today. The irony and humor that this was their rich land over 165 years ago with a wealth of life giving fishing and rice harvests. Today it provides them a different sort of wealth and actual political power they lacked at that time. As they buy their land back one piece at a time.

  3. Chris Byhre says:

    Jake, there is no deflection onto Doyle by Walker in this case. As I am certain you recall, Doyle gave the tribes gaming compacts in perpetuity in WI in return for very generous donations to his campaign. He did so without input from the Legislature (is that what Democracy looks like?) He also was trying to close a $3.2 billion dollar deficit that his reckless spending helped create. You are also probably aware that WI Tribes donated over 45K to his innagural bash in 2003 to grease the skids for compact negotiations and donated over 1 million dollars to Dems in WI in that election cycle. Stupid tax cuts? Walker saved WI taxpayers over 3 Billion dollars Jake. Hardly stupid.

  4. Nicholas says:

    Doyle caused the McCallum deficit?

    Was Doyle’s “reckless” spending held in check by the GOP? After all they held both chambers until his 2nd term.

  5. Chris Byhre says:

    McCallum was Gov for 2 years. We suffered through 8 years of Doyle. I also said that he helped create the deficit, I did not state it was his entirely. Doyle illegally raided the WI Injured Patients fund to the tune of over $200 million dollars that was ordered to be repaid by the Supreme Court. He removed over 1 billion dollars from the state’s transportation fund. Doyle left WI with a greater structural deficit then when he came into office and this includes the 2 billion dollars WI received as a part of the failed Federal Stimulus program. Doyle negotiated the gaming compacts that Walker and every Governor after him have to deal with. His legacy endures and we all suffer for it.

  6. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    For Chrissy Lyhre-

    As Nicholas brings up, the deficit Doyle was trying to close in 2003 was inherited from Tommy’s and McCallum’s recklessness. And he did close the deficit despite no help at all from the GOP Baggers in the Legislature. Don’t even try that one.

    As for your Act 10 talking points- don’t try that garbage either. For the $3 billion in alleged savings, there was at least $2 billion in cuts to school districts and local governments (which have not been restored), and at least $2 billion in lower consumption pulled out of the Wisconsin economy’s level of consumption in 2012 alone (including a lot that would have gone to your beloved “private sector job creators”). Scotty tried to play the same sketchy game Doyle didn’t with the Potawatomi (except with more donations and even more scumminess), and it was the same pay-to-play ethic that Scotty has put to unprecedented levels in this state. But Potawatomi beat him at their own game.

    And now we know why Scotty was claiming that the state needed the tribe’s $25 million so badly. Because Walker’s stupid tax cuts have led to a shortfall of more than $280 million, and now means budget deficits of $471 million next year, and $1.3 billion in the next budget. That doesn’t even count the $25 million in missed Potawatomi payments.

    In fact, it is now very likely that the structural deficit is even worse than what Scotty walker into in 2011, and that’s despite 4 years of the Obama Recovery that’s led to surpluses in most other states. It’s quite an “achievement”.

    Your boy’s a corrupt failure, and this casino issue is just one of many examples. It’s only paid hacks or weak-minded suburb trash are still beLIEving that Walkerism has left us any better off in any way. I’m just trying to figure out which one you are.

  7. Chris Byhre says:

    I suspect you are trying to figure out a lot of things based on your childish rant. In previous posts you had set the bar pretty low for intellect, but you somehow managed to crawl underneath it today.

  8. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    In other words, Chrissy has nothing, since he won’t answer the FACTS I gave,

    You know, just like how I and a few others got the truth out about Wisconsin being dead last in income growth since Walker took office (another direct effect of Act 10). Something else Chrissy and his band of right-wing Lyhres wanted to deceive about by cherry-picking numbers.

    Maybe you should stay quiet in the bubble instead of shooting your mouth off.

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