Kenosha Hard Rock Tribal Casino Proposal Approved by City Council

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The city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is one step closer to getting a new casino resort complex, courtesy of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and Hard Rock International.

The Kenosha Common Council voted 11-6 in favor of a land deal for the project, which will see its developers spend $15 million on a 60-acre plot of land owned by the city.

However, the $360 million prospective addition to the list of Wisconsin casinos faces many hurdles.

Pencilled in as Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Kenosha for now, proponents argue the venue will bring a slew of economic and entertainment benefits to the region. The County, the U.S. Department of The Interior, and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) will all have to sign off on the development before it can begin construction.

Development Plans and Amenities

The site, located west of Interstate 94 at 60th St., is set to transform into the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Kenosha. The project is envisioned as a comprehensive entertainment complex. The casino floor will feature 1,500 slot machines, 55 table games, and a new addition to the list of Wisconsin retail sportsbooks. Outside of gambling, the resort will offer a 150-room hotel, seven restaurants, a Hard Rock Café, a 2,000-seat concert hall, and a gift shop.

Joey Awonohopay, a spokesperson for the Menominee, highlighted the broader implications of the project in a council meeting.

“There’s no local place big enough to hold a large event for a few hundred people so we’re not just bringing a gaming operation here, we’re bringing all the amenities that come with it,” he said.

Matt Schuffert, regional president of Hard Rock, has previously suggested a new casino resort in Kenosha could bring in $250 million to $295 million annually. The agreement with the city looks set to exempt the Menominee from local property tax. However, it will include a revenue sharing agreement for the entire operation.

That revenue share reportedly includes 3% of the casino’s net gambling income per financial quarter, $500,000 a year to Kenosha’s public home ownership programs, and $1 million split over six years to fund local first responders and emergency crews.

Backed up by labor union reps, developers said the project would create 800 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs once the two-year build is complete and the casino is open.

“We feel the atmosphere is right for us to bring that project forward again,” Awonohopay said last month, speaking to local outlet Kenosha News.

“We’re looking at an estimated 1,500 gaming devices and slot machines, 55 table games, a sports book. In that package, we’re looking at a 150-key hotel room with a hotel, a spa, and several different restaurant options for people as they visit the facility.”

Approval Process

While the city’s approval is a crucial first hurdle, the project’s realization is contingent on a series of subsequent reviewers.

The Kenosha County Board of Supervisors is set to vote on the proposal later this month. Should the county endorse the plan, the Menominee would need to navigate federal procedures, including petitioning the government to place the land into federal trust. The property would also need to be designated as linked sovereign territory, which requires the Tribe to demonstrate their historical ties to the area.

The final step involves extending the Menominee’s Class III compact with the state to the new casino. This step is particularly noteworthy given the Tribe’s previous unsuccessful attempt in 2015 to secure state rights for a larger $800 million casino project under then-Governor Scott Walker.

Current Governor Evers has expressed a more open stance toward Tribal casinos, having approved similar ventures in the past.

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Community Reactions and Considerations

The prospect of a new casino has sparked a lively debate within the Kenosha community. Wednesday’s meeting lasted three hours and was just the first of many in the approval process.

While gambling fans anticipate the economic and recreational boost the complex would provide, others expressed the usual concerns about potential negative impacts of a casino, such as reduced home values, increased crime, and the specter of problem gambling.

“We got crime problems, public safety (issues), and numerous other issues where this can only exacerbate what is already a high-tax problem west of the (Interstate),” said one resident, Steven Guion. He also pointed out there are several other casinos in neighboring cities, and even across nearby state lines.

“How many more casinos do we need?” he asked. 

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