Gov. Scott Walker and the Forest County Potawatomi have signed a compact amendment that would formally require the state to ensure the tribe receives payments for any losses its Milwaukee casino might suffer if the Menominee Nation opens a competing facility in Kenosha.
A trio of arbitrators handed the amendment to the state and Potawatomi last month, according to the Wisconsin Department of Administration and the tribe. The governor stressed in a Nov. 25 letter alerting the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs about the agreement that the deal doesn't indicate whether he supports or opposes the Kenosha project.
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The bureau has 45 days to accept the amendment, reject it or take no action, which would in effect amount to approval.
Walker has said the Kenosha casino could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars over multiple years. R. Lance Boldrey, an attorney Walker's administration hired to handle the dispute, said in a letter to Assistant Secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn that the deal may violate Wisconsin's constitution. He said the governor doesn't have the power to create annual spending obligations.
The Menominee has been pushing to open an off-reservation casino for more than 20 years, saying it would help pull the tribe out of poverty. Last year, the Bureau of Indiana Affairs granted the tribe permission to build a casino in Kenosha, but Walker has the final say as governor.
Walker, who has until Feb. 19 to make a decision, has said he won't approve the project unless the state's 11 other tribes sign off. The Potawatomi has been fiercely opposed to the idea.
That tribe's 2005 gambling compact with the state requires Wisconsin to reimburse it for losses linked to Kenosha. The tribe has refused to make its $25 million annual payment to the state out of concerns Wisconsin will end up owing the tribe if Walker approves the Kenosha casino. The Potawatomi has argued the compact also requires the state to refund as much as $100 million to the tribe if the governor gives the Kenosha project the green light.
The deal requires both sides to enter arbitration to determine both the state and tribe's rights and obligations. The compact amendment the arbitrators approved on Nov. 21 requires the state to fully reimburse the Potawatomi for its losses and lays out a mechanism for the two sides to calculate annual losses.
The Menominee has offered to make the reimbursements to the Potawatomi, but the amendment says the state would still be responsible for making sure the Potawatomi get paid.
The Ho-Chunk Nation also opposes the Kenosha casino. Under that tribe's current gambling compact, its payments to the state would decrease by how much it loses due to the new facility.
Potawatomi Attorney General Jeff Crawford issued a statement Tuesday evening saying the tribe continues to oppose the Kenosha project and "believes Gov. Walker will ultimately find that this project is not in the best interest of Wisconsin."
The Menominee issued a statement saying the tribe was pleased with the arbitration and that completing the process removes a major hurdle the governor faced before giving final approval.