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Sunday, December 4th, 2022
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MADISON — A long-dead casino project in Kenosha is being resurrected by the Florida Indian tribe that partnered on a similar proposal nearly a decade ago, Capitol sources tell Empower Wisconsin.

This time, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is looking to purchase approximately 16 acres just west of Interstate-94 in the growing village of Bristol, about 15 miles west of Kenosha, sources say.

Bristol village officials say they are not aware of any deals in the offing, but at least one village board member says she would be strongly opposed to a casino in the community of about 5,000 people.

The gambling/entertainment complex would be a scaled-back version of the $800 million Hard Rock Hotel & Casino first proposed in 2013 for Kenosha’s former Dairyland Greyhound Park. The project was a joint venture of Wisconsin’s Menominee Nation and Hard Rock International, owned and operated by the Seminole.

Then-Gov. Scott Walker said he wouldn’t sign off on the gambling house without the support of all of Wisconsin’s 11 tribes. There was opposition, most vigorously from the Forest County Potawatomi. Tribal officials raised concerns that a Kenosha operation would siphon substantial revenue from the Potawatomi’s Milwaukee hotel and casino.

Walker, citing the Potawatomi’s agreement with the state, feared Wisconsin taxpayers could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. So he rejected the Kenosha casino plan.

But much has changed in the $53 billion U.S. gambling industry since 2015, when Walker made his decision. The expansion of sports betting, the rapid rise of gambling apps and growth in traditional brick-and-mortar casinos drove revenue up a record 21 percent in 2021.

There’s a liberal governor in office who is more than happy to expand legalized gambling in Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has signed off on deals with tribal nations to allow wagering on sporting events and last year he approved the Ho-Chunk Nation’s plan to build a $405 million casino in Beloit.

Bristol officials tell Empower Wisconsin they are unaware of any casino development plans, although Village Board member Chris Leker said there are rumors going around town. Board President Mike Farrell said he knows of land available west of I-94, about the size sources say the Seminole are looking for, but he says he’s not heard anything about a casino development.

“That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t get talked about or released to the world on the front end,” he said. He added that he knows Bristol’s state representatives backed the Kenosha casino proposal and were disappointed when Walker rejected it. He would not say whether he would support a casino project in Bristol.

Board member Carolyn Owens said she hasn’t heard about the plan, but said a casino would not be welcome in the community.

“I think the concept would not be popular with the residents of Bristol,” she said. “We’ve tried to keep controlled development. I would be surprised if this community welcomed it.”

Representatives from the Seminole Tribe of Florida could not be reached for comment.

The tribe has been expanding its gaming interests outside of Florida, where its gambling compact with the state was struck down by a federal court in November. The deal would have allowed the Seminole to expand in online sports betting, new table games and potential casinos.  Tribal leaders are appealing the ruling.

Among its new developments, the Seminole are building a casino/entertainment complex in Rockford, Ill., about 20 miles south of the Wisconsin border, and 90 miles from Kenosha.

Hard Rock Casino Rockford is a $310 million development at the city’s former Clock Tower Resort. A temporary casino opened in November, with the full complex expected to be operational within a couple of years.

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