“It’s complicated:” Doyle tribal compacts makes decision on Kenosha casino project challenging

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KENOSHA (WITI) -- Governor Scott Walker has been weighing a decision on the proposed Kenosha casino for more than a year. A February 19th decision deadline is looming. The decision process is made more complicated by tribal compacts established by Governor Jim Doyle, and those compacts were addressed by Governor Walker in Milwaukee on Wednesday, December 3rd.

"It's complicated by the compacts that Jim Doyle put into place," Governor Walker said.

When he was in office, Governor Doyle negotiated compact agreements with the Potawatomi and other tribes to indemnify them (or pay them fully) for any money lost as a result of any new competing casino.

In August of 2013, the federal government approved the Kenosha casino proposal -- which to the Potawatomi Tribe represented competition and potential losses. Immediately, the Potawatomi opposed the Kenosha casino, saying the Menominee Tribe's proposed casino in Kenosha would siphon customers away from the Potawatomi's casino in Milwaukee.

The Menominee Tribe offered to pay for any losses.

As Governor Walker weighed his decision, the Potawatomi Tribe decided to withhold a $25 million revenue sharing payment to the state of Wisconsin.

The tribal compact negotiated by Governor Jim Doyle with the Potawatomi Tribe required a special kind of process be followed when disputes like this arise, and that process is called arbitration. Arbitration just finished up, and now, the state and the Potawatomi Tribe must draft an amendment to the original Doyle compact.

The amendment says if the Menominee Tribe doesn't compensate the Potawatomi for losses after a Kenosha casino is built, state taxpayers would foot the bill. The Menominee Tribal Chairwoman says the federal government should reject the amendment.

"I think that that compact amendment is a potential problem. Basically, it's an anti-competitive amendment," Menominee Tribal Chairwoman Laurie Boivin said.

Governor Walker's special counsel has now issued a letter to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs -- writing that the amendment "could give rise to state constitutional issues," and that "creating this type of annual obligation on the part of the state is likely beyond the power of the governor."

"There's some very real concerns about what the Bureau of Indian Affairs might approve or not approve, and about whether I or even the Legislature has the legal authority to commit future legislative bodies to payments or non-payments," Governor Walker said.

A Potawatomi spokesman tells FOX6 News he believes the compact amendment is fair.

According to the most recent public opinion poll, the state is split on the issue -- with 42% supporting a casino in Kenosha, and 37% opposing it.

Again -- Governor Walker has a February 19th deadline to make a decision.

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