EDITORIAL: Unfair standard for casino plan

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Walker is erecting an insurmountable barrier for tribal gaming. Why?

 

NORMALLY WHEN IT comes to investment, economic development and job creation, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is a sensible and enthusiastic leader.

Consider the proposed iron mine in northwest Wisconsin. With sufficient legislative reform, Wisconsin was told, a private mining outfit would invest millions, develop the site, and generate 700 or more permanent jobs along with many others related to construction and support services. Walker was unmoved by opposition in the region — opinion seems to be about split down the middle — or changes sought by the elected senator from the area. Neither did he feel constrained by strong opposition — including the threat of litigation — from the Bad River band, whose reservation borders the proposed mine location.

On the merits, we think Walker’s right. Plenty of details remain to be worked out, but Wisconsin should try to work with developers to bring investment and jobs to people who need opportunities in this state.

 

WHICH BRINGS US to the governor’s puzzling attitude toward Native American gaming.

Last week Walker said any casino plan would have to receive federal approval and be strongly supported by the proposed host community.

Then he fired the kill shot. Any one of the 11 Wisconsin tribes could veto the proposal of any other tribe. The governor said he would demand consensus among the tribes before he would consider approving a proposal. He defined that in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Consensus doesn’t mean 10 yes and one no. Consensus means everybody says yes.”

Seriously?

The governor knows that’s a turn-off-the-lights-the-party’s-over standard — unreachable for a casino plan or, for that matter, anything else. Imagine applying that standard to mining legislation, for heaven’s sake. Requiring unanimity is the same as saying no.

 

FROM A PRACTICAL standpoint, the 11 Wisconsin tribes frequently feud among themselves and seldom occupy common ground, particularly in competitive conditions. In a more localized sense, the Bad River and St. Croix Chippewa bands tried unsuccessfully for years to achieve federal approval for a Beloit casino. The Chippewa felt undercut when the Ho-Chunk Nation subsequently moved into Beloit, attempting to secure approval for its own plan.

Without comment on the merits of the tribal disagreement, this much seems likely: Getting a “yes” from the Chippewa would be very difficult.

And under Walker’s criteria, a Chippewa “no” would be enough to kill the investment for Beloit.

That makes about as much sense as saying Wal-mart would not be permitted to build a store anywhere in Wisconsin if Shopko or Sears objected.

The governor says the tribes should be treated differently than other businesses because they have a monopoly on gaming in Wisconsin. Maybe. But different shouldn’t be defined as establishment of an insurmountable barrier.

 

HO-CHUNK LEADERS are publicly optimistic, not surprising since they want to keep their development hopes alive. President Jon Greendeer told the Beloit Daily News the Nation’s compact specifically allows it to develop one more casino site. He points out the compact was established with the state in 1992, then renewed in 1999 and 2003.

“I don’t see why the governor would breach the compact,” Greendeer said. “I wouldn’t expect him to.”

Obviously, the plan still has a long way to go. The federal portion of the process remains in the early stages and a decision is at least a couple years away.

The stakes are high. The Ho-Chunk proposal calls for a $200 million investment for a complete complex — casino, hotel, restaurants and shops. Some 1,500 jobs, more or less, are projected — and that doesn’t count the hundreds of construction workers who would be employed building the complex. Many more jobs likely would be created as other businesses located to the area to service casino visitors. The Ho-Chunk have agreed to pay local governments millions of dollars annually to cover necessary services.

One need only look at another headline from the Daily News last week to see why such a major development opportunity is important to this community. That headline read, “Southeastern Container to close.”

 

FOR A GOVERNOR who has been all about investment and jobs, this is a puzzler. Some may wonder if the man who has chosen to erect an unreasonable barrier is speaking strictly as the governor, or at least partly as the preacher’s son.

We understand that gambling stirs moral questions. If that’s the real story behind Gov. Walker’s decision to set a standard he knows can’t be met, he should just say so.

Meanwhile, Beloit strongly supports the plan and its leadership should stay the course. Likewise, the Ho-Chunk Nation has proven itself an honorable partner and we trust President Greendeer and his colleagues will pursue the plan until a final determination is made. That could take years. By then, Gov. Walker could have had a change of heart. Or someone else could be sitting in his chair.

The odds are longer. But the game isn’t over.

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