Menominee Nation makes last push for off-reservation casino

Hundreds rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol in support of the Menominee Nation on February 18, 2015. Photo from Facebook

Hundreds of supporters of an off-reservation casino for the Menominee Nation rallied at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Wednesday but the tribe was unable to convince Gov. Scott Walker (R) to change his mind about the project.

The rally took place after about a dozen tribal members completed a 156-mile walk from the reservation to Madison. They braved frigid temperatures on their six-day journey and were were joined by even more supporters as they approached the Capitol.

A larger crowd of marchers joined the final leg to the Capitol on February 18, 2015. Photo from Facebook

The goal was a face-to-face meeting with Walker, who officially rejected the $800 million casino in Kenosha on January 23. But since the final deadline was today, Chairman Gary Besaw was hoping for one last shot at making the case for the project, which enjoys strong local support.

Besaw, however, was turned away from Walker's office as a crowd that the tribe estimated at more than 400 gathered in the Capitol. "I'm very dismayed that the governor did not step forward and meet with the Menominee Nation," the chairman told WTMJ.

Menominee Nation Chairman Gary Besaw was prevented from approaching the office of Gov. Scott Walker (R) on February 18. Photo from Facebook

The governor's snub appeared to put an end to the tribe's long battle. During the final days of the Bush administration, the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected the casino in January 2009 by citing a controversial "guidance memorandum" that made it virtually impossible for any tribe to open a casino away from an existing reservation.

After filing a lawsuit, the Menominee Nation reached a settlement with the Obama administration and the project was revived. The BIA also withdrew the guidance memo in June 2011 due to complaints from Indian Country.

Artist's rendering of the proposed Menominee Nation off-reservation casino. Image from Casino Kenosha

Two years after the settlement, the BIA approved the casino in August 2013 under the two-part determination provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The law gave Walker final say over the project.

Walker initially promised a speedy answer -- by October 2013, because he said all tribes in the state had to agree. The Forest County Potawatomi Tribe and the Ho-Chunk Nation never supported the casino so observers thought he was going to reject it quickly.

But after issuing a series of daily updates, Walker finally said he was indefinitely postponing in order to address legal, economic and policy issues surrounding the casino. BIA regulations give a governor a year to respond to a two-part determination so the Menominee Nation believed the delay would work in its favor.

Instead, the situation became more complicated when Walker negotiated a new Class III gaming compact with the Potawatomis that held the state liable for losses from a rival casino. Kenosha is only 40 miles from the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee and the Potawatomis started withholding gaming revenues from the state.

The BIA ended up rejecting the compact on January 12 but that didn't help the Menominee Nation's cause. Ahead of today's deadline, Walker rejected the casino and has stuck by the decision despite pressure from the tribe, Kenosha and state lawmakers in the Kenosha region.

Since 1988, only three tribes have successfully opened casinos under the two-part determination provisions of IGRA. One is the Forest County Potawatomi Community.

Get the Story:
Will Gov. Walker change his mind on the Kenosha casino? (WTMJ 2/19)
Menominee march 155 miles to protest casino refusal (The Badger Herald 2/19)
Menominee march on Madison (The Kenosha News 2/19)
Menominee march ends without Kenosha casino OK (AP 2/19)
UW law professor lays out a legal path to Kenosha casino for Menominee tribe (The Milwaukee Business Journal 2/19)
Hundreds fill Capitol to protest Scott Walker's decision on Kenosha casino (The Madison Capital Times 2/18)
Menominee march for Kenosha casino ends in failure (The Madison Daily Cardinal 2/18)
Photos: A final push for Kenosha casino (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 2/18)
Menominee Tribe's March to Madison Doesn't Get the Governor's Attention (NBC26 2/18)
Menominee rallying at capitol are still hopeful Governor Walker will reconsider casino project (WKOW 2/18)

Some Opinions:
Steve Lund: Off by a factor of 100 (The Kenosha News 2/19)
Editorial: Tribe deserves a meeting, explanation (The Kenosha News 2/18)
Heather Asiyanb: Gov. Walker is Lying About Casino Rejection (The Racine County Eye 2/18)

Bureau of Indian Affairs Documents:
Press Release | Fact Sheet: Menominee Nation Decision | Section 20 Determination: Menominee Nation Off-Reservation Casino

Related Stories
Menominee Nation sought to bar rival off-reservation casino (2/17)
Menominee Nation begins 156-mile walk in support of casino (2/13)

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