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Wis. casino backers press Walker on plan

Todd Richmond, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Supporters of a tribal casino in Kenosha began their campaign Tuesday to pressure Gov. Scott Walker to green-light the project, saying the facility would be an economic boon.

Menominee Nation officials, union leaders and Kenosha-area legislators told reporters at a news conference in the state Capitol the casino would create thousands of jobs and help lift the band's northeastern Wisconsin reservation out of poverty.

"(Walker) is a good man and wants to do what's best for the state ... it's very clear this project deserves to be approved," Menominee Tribal Chairman Craig Corn said.

A Walker spokesman referred questions to state Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis, who declined comment.

The Menominee have been looking for years to open an off-reservation casino at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park dog track, where they could attract many more gamblers than they get at their reservation casino.

Kenosha County voters approved the idea in an advisory referendum in 2004. But three years later the developer helping the tribe, Dennis Troha, quit the project. Days later he was indicted on federal charges he funneled illegal donations to then-President George W. Bush as well as then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat who had the power to approve the casino.

The U.S. Interior Department breathed new life into the casino Friday when it approved the project. Walker, a Republican, still must sign off. He said last week saying his approval hinges on no new net gambling, community support and consensus from the state's other 10 tribes.

That last caveat is a big problem for the Menominee. The Forest County Potawatomi strongly oppose the project. They run a lucrative off-reservation casino in Milwaukee, about 40 miles north of the Kenosha site, and fear the competition would hurt revenue.

Walker has set up a 60-day public comment period on casino, triggering a public relations battle between casino supporters and opponents.

Union laborers flanked Corn at the news conference, holding signs that "Competition is a good thing" and "Jobs + $$$ for WI!"

Gary Besaw, chairman of the Menominee-Kenosha Gaming Authority, the tribal arm working on the casino, said the casino would create 3,300 permanent jobs and provide the state with $35 million in annual payments. He said the numbers were from financial analyses the tribe commissioned in 2005 and 2012.

"It's a no-brainer," he said.

Corn said the Menominee would be willing to negotiate with the Potawatomi "tomorrow if need be, tonight if need be." He said the Menominee have offered the Potawatomi a share in managing or developing the casino.

But Potawatomi lobbyist Ken Walsh said the Menominee's economic predictions are exaggerations and Wisconsin's casino market is saturated. The 11 tribes currently run 25 gambling facilities statewide, according to the state Department of Administration.

The Potawatomi's attorney general, Jeff Crawford, criticized the Menominee in a statement for releasing negotiation details to the media, calling it a gimmick to get media attention. Corn countered the Menominee have been making such offers to the Potawatomi for years.