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Walker’s waffling on casino unworthy


Waukesha Freeman 11/14/2013 Page A5 Opinion

Walker’s waffling on casino unworthy

Time to make a decision

So much for deadlines. It’s a good thing Gov. Scott Walker isn’t a newspaper columnist because we sailed right past his original deadline on a casino decision into a waffle time warp.

(The Waukesha Freeman’s copy editor is laughing right now. “Look who’s talking.”) Will Walker OK the casino in Kenosha? If I had to give odds just a month ago, I would have said it was a sure bet Walker was going to tell the Menominee Tribe it was time to fold ’em.

It was impossible to meet the criteria set by the governor for giving his OK to the proposed casino. A Kenosha casino is definitely going to create more net gambling. The Potawatomi are never going to support competition, even by another Indian tribe.

The governor clearly expected the Menominee tribe to be unable to overcome those hurdles. The criteria were Walker’s way of saying no to the Menominee without looking like he was doing a favor for the Potawatomi.

Some Republican leaders are hoping to keep tribal casino money out of next year’s elections. That’s why the Indian mascot bill had such a hard time in the Legislature.

Stopping competition to the Potawatomi casino by killing the proposed Kenosha casino would certainly be an incentive for the tribe to support Walker instead of backing his Democratic opponent.

What Walker probably did not count on was the support from many within his own base for the proposed casino in Kenosha. At a recent conservative gathering in Wauwatosa, side conversations were filled with frustration over the governor’s dithering on the issue.

Callers to talk radio are overwhelmingly in favor of the project.

It’s not supposed to be this way. Wisconsin conservatives have traditionally been opposed to tribal casino gaming.

However, that argument was lost years ago when federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the Wisconsin lottery meant the state could no longer regulate gambling on tribal land. If Wisconsin government could sponsor legalized gambling, so could the tribes.

Unfortunately, since there is not a move to repeal the state lottery, Wisconsin is a gambling state. We have little islands of Las Vegas scattered through the state competing with non-gambling restaurants and hotels for limited entertainment dollars.

Gambling also brings a corrosive influence on Wisconsin politics because of the revenue it generates. Money flows to campaign coffers and to special interest groups, largely benefitting the Democrats.

The tribes that have casinos have two interests. They want to maintain their current operations on favorable terms with the state of Wisconsin. They want to keep out competition, even if that means one of their fellow tribes has to suffer.

Since we already have gambling, and since it is not going away anytime soon, the best we can do is introduce as much competition as possible. State Rep. Duey Stroebel has even suggested opening up gaming to non-tribal interests to truly allow a free market. While the required constitutional amendment is probably not going on a legislative calendar any time soon, it’s an idea worth considering.

In the meantime, Walker is faced with a tough decision, made tougher by his public Hamlet “to agree or not to agree” behavior. He is going to disappoint someone with his decision regardless of what it is.

The longer Walker takes to decide on the Kenosha casino, the more he is annoying everyone involved. Brett Favre took less time deciding whether or not he was going to retire. Given the number of jobs the casino will create and the economic benefit to the Menominee tribe, Walker should approve the casino.

The Menominee reservation is one of the most economically depressed areas of the state.

They deserve economic prosperity just as much as the Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk and Oneida tribes.

Walker is going to fall short of his stated jobs goal. The Democrats are going to use that promise he made in 2010 to club him in 2014.

Whatever he can do to bring the state closer to his promised 250,000 jobs can only help him politically.

Whatever principle that might be defended by opposing the casino was lost long before Walker became governor. It’s time for Walker to end the public debate with himself and support the casino before he becomes a punch line.

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