U.S. News

Wisconsin governor rejects $800 million casino in Kenosha

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker on Friday rejected a plan to build a casino in southeastern Wisconsin, saying his decision was based on protecting taxpayers rather than the wishes of powerful conservatives in Iowa, a key state for presidential candidates.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker takes the stage to address fellow Republicans at a dinner during the Republican National Committtee's "Building on Success" winter meeting in San Diego, California January 15, 2015. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton

A casino in Kenosha would potentially cost taxpayers up to $100 million because of state agreements with the Potawatomi tribe that owns and operates a casino in Milwaukee, Walker said in a statement.

Under its agreement, Wisconsin would be required to reimburse the Potawatomi tribe for any lost revenue due to the Kenosha casino.

The proposed $800 million Kenosha casino was to be a joint venture between the Menominee Tribe and Hard Rock, which would have operated the facility.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the Kenosha project in August 2013, but as governor, Walker had the last say in whether the development could happen.

Walker said the Kenosha casino could have cost Wisconsin hundreds of millions of dollars in the long run.

“After a comprehensive review of the potential economic impact of the proposed Kenosha casino project, the risk to the state’s taxpayers is too great,” Walker said.

The Menominee Tribe said in a statement that the casino would have improved the lives of 9,000 members.

“Instead, one tribe, the Forest County Potawatomi and one goal of Governor Walker, the presidency, has led to a ‘no’ for our people,” the tribe said.

Walker, 47, fresh off re-election in November, has begun to lay the foundation to seriously consider a White House run in 2016, according to political analysts, by writing a campaign-themed book and traveling to Iowa and other campaign states.

Executive director of Consumer Credit of Des Moines Tom Coates, an influential conservative in Iowa, recently urged Walker not to approve the casino as he considers a presidential run.

“I ... have seen first-hand the devastating effects gaming has on families,” Coates wrote in a letter to Walker that was attached to 600 signatures of potential Iowa caucus voters.

Walker is scheduled to attend a conservative event in Iowa on Saturday. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday his decision on the casino and his trip to Iowa are unrelated.

Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Christian Plumb and Sandra Maler