Hard Rock to Develop, Run Proposed Kenosha Casino

Menominee Nation hopes casino near Wisconsin-Illinois border would draw gamblers from the Chicago area

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo

    The Menominee Nation and Hard Rock International announced a deal Thursday for the gambling and entertainment company to manage a casino in Kenosha if the tribe gets approval for the project.

    The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the project earlier this year, but the tribe still needs Republican Gov. Scott Walker to sign off. Walker has said he wants to see consensus among Wisconsin's tribes, among other things. The Forest County Potawatomi Tribe and Ho-Chunk Nation, which already operate casinos, have objected to the proposal.

    Menominee tribal Chairman Craig Corn said at a news conference that bringing the Hard Rock brand to the project adds excitement and will make the casino a more attractive destination.

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    Mayor Rahm Emanuel says despite $300 millon in upgrades to the McCormick Place area, the location of a Chicago casino -- if it gets one -- is still very much up in the air.

    "Hard Rock International is thrilled to collaborate with the Menominee Tribe to create a true regional entertainment destination, which will become an important economic engine for the Menominee and Wisconsin," Hard Rock International Chief Executive Officer James Allen said. "We look forward to lending our global recognition, strong financial capabilities and proven experience to this project."

    It was not immediately clear how much the deal was worth. The tribe has been willing in the past to pay a potential developer and manager more than a quarter of its gambling revenue.

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the Menominee tribe still owes about $12 million to the Mohegan tribe's gambling corporation, which walked away from a development and management deal several years ago.

    Along with support from all 11 Wisconsin tribes, Walker has said a Kenosha casino must have community support, and there can be no net increase in gambling.

    The Menominee tribe currently operates two casinos in Keshena, which is north of Milwaukee. Presumably, it would give some or all of that up. The tribe's hope is that a Kenosha casino near the Wisconsin-Illinois border would draw gamblers from the Chicago area and be far more lucrative.

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with his eye on the tax revenue casinos can bring, has repeatedly pressed for legislation allowing a casino in the city. He said that if Chicago gets a casino, all of its profits would go toward education.

    Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has axed two gambling bills over oversight concerns but said he'd be open to the idea if his concerns are addressed.

    The Seminole tribe in Florida purchased the Hard Rock corporation in 2007. It owns 179 venues in 57 countries, including eight casinos.

    The Potawatomi operate a casino just north of Kenosha in Milwaukee and fear the Menominee facility would pull gamblers away. The tribe's spokesman, Ken Walsh, released a statement complaining an out-of-state company would run the Menominee casino and the proposal still doesn't meet the governor's criteria for approval.