Big Fitz has a column over on Right Wisconsin opposing approval of the Kenosha casino. He couldn’t be more wrong. His piece boils down to three arguments.
The first argument is that the state might lose a lot of money if the casino is approved. This would first be because of the clause in the existing tribal compacts that requires the state to make the Potawatomi whole should another casino cut into their profits. It’s part of the horrible deal that the former governor agreed to. But the Bureau of Indian Affairs just ruled that the compact can’t be amended to put an enforcement mechanism into the compact. In doing so, they said, “”We have never been presented with a compact or amendment that goes so far as to attempt to guarantee the continued profitability of one tribe’s casino at the expense of another tribe.” That means that while the existing compact says that the Potowatomi must be made whole if the Kenosha casino is approved, there isn’t anything in place to actually force anyone to make those payments.
That leaves the Potawatomi in a precarious place and they know it. That is why they are already filing a federal lawsuit against the BIA to reverse the ruling. They will almost certainly lose their case, thus leaving no enforcement of that part of their compact. That leads us to their only other recourse… the Potawatomi could withhold their payments to the state. Remember that the tribes don’t have to pay taxes, but the compact to which they agreed obligates them to make payments to the state. The could claim that the compact has been breached because of the non-compete clause and withhold payments, but it is likely that they would lose that in court too. Withholding payments might even force them to have to negotiate an entirely new compact – this time with a different governor who hopefully won’t give away the taxpayers’ store. At the very least, the state can be much less cooperative and make life very difficult for the Potawatomi to do business. That’s why the Potawatomi would much rather the BIA approve the amendment putting mitigation payments into the existing compact.
While the state may lose out on some money from the Potowatomi if Walker approves the Kenosha Casino, the odds are actually pretty good that the Potawatomi will not be able to back up their threats in the long term. Furthermore, remember that the new casino is likely projected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars of profit. It may more than offset any losses from the Potawatomi’s recalcitrance.
The second argument is that the Potawatomi will sue the BIA and the state if the casino is approved. So what? People are free to sue for whatever they please. That doesn’t mean they will win. In this case, all indications are that the tribe would lose. Governor Walker and the State of Wisconsin can’t fear doing the right thing just because someone might sue over it. If that were the case, we would never advance anything.
The third argument is that the casino market would become saturated. Fitz says, “history has shown that when gaming markets become oversaturated, casino revenues level off or decline.” Again, so what? What business is it of the state’s to enforce a monopoly in a specific grography for the purpose of sustaining gambling revenues? The state wouldn’t step in and oppose a new Menard’s opening up just because they think there are already too many home improvement stores in the area. Neither should they oppose the Kenosha casino for fear that the market may be saturated. In fact, the people willing to put hundreds of millions of dollars into the construction of the casino seem to think that there is plenty of market opportunity left. I’m willing to support them spending their own money in Wisconsin on that bet.
Fitzgerald seems to be more than willing to let the State of Wisconsin be bullied by a tiny tribe with a big casino. Instead of rolling over, the state should play hardball against a tribe that is playing above their grade. My worry is that Fitzgerald’s article is designed to give Governor Walker cover for a bad decision he is about to make. I sure hope not, because it is no cover at all. Walker is going to have a hard time making the case that he is “intimidated” if he kills one of the largest economic development projects in the state for fear of the Potawatomi.
Walker should ignore Fitzgerald’s opinion and do what is right for the citizens and taxpayers of Wisconsin – approve the Kenosha Casino.
Personally, I look at the casino from more than an economical standpoint. Casino statistics show that this is not good for Wisconsin’s families. Over 333,000 Wisconsinites have gambling problems. Calls to the WI Council on Problem Gambling’s 24-hour Helpline have increased 294% since 1996. (ouch!) Here’s a sad fact: The average debt of callers contacting the Helpline is $39,849. Seniors and adolescents are at high risk for addiction. 65% of compulsive gamblers commit crimes to finance their gambling. (Think of the cost to taxpayers with some of these stats.) How exactly does the casino “benefit” Wisconsin’s families? While I understand the economic viewpoint, I still must fall back on what is best for “people” in general, as healthy families are key to the overall makeup of our state. Governor Walker clearly laid out criteria for his decision on the Kenosha Casino, 1.) It must have community support, 2.) All WI Indian Tribes must be in agreement, 3.) No net expansion of gambling. Either he abides by these criteria, or he is a liar.
That’s a valid argument to make against gambling in general and one that supported Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment against gambling. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed. We have gambling in Wisconsin already – a lot of it. And there’s nothing we can do about it because the tribes aren’t subject to our state constitution when it comes to gambling. So if we are going to have gambling anyway, it makes no sense for the state government to enforce a monopoly for one tribe over another. Let competition reign.
I have mixed feelings on this one. While I definitely don’t like to encourage a habit that makes people MORE reliant on Government handouts, I agree with Owen that some of this is inevitable.
The key here for me is that if we don’t build the Kenosha Casino, there will probably be one built in Northern Illinois. Better than Illinois folks come up here to lose money than Wisconsin folks losing money in Illinois.