By MIKE NICHOLS | Oct. 15, 2013
I'm not sure who is driving Gov. Scott Walker around nowadays. But whoever it is could do all of us a favor and swing by the old, dilapidated Dairyland Greyhound Park just off I-94 in Kenosha.
It's been years since the dogs ran. And about the only thing you could wager on today is how fast the impressive crop of weeds is growing through the ever-widening cracks in the parking lot.
The Menominee tribe, of course, wants to change all that and convince Walker to let it open a massive, $800 million casino complex it says will produce thousands of new jobs and up to $54 million a year in new state and local revenue.
Weeds aside, Walker should decline.
The Wisconsin casino market already appears saturated or close to it. Dan Alesch, professor emeritus of public administration at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, concluded in a report he wrote for us at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute that a new casino in the state would likely just result in a transfer of jobs and money from one community to another. There would be little if any net gain to the people of Wisconsin — who get a slice of gaming revenues — as a whole.
In fact, both the Ho-Chunk and the Potawatomi have language in their gaming compacts that could reduce payments to the state as a way of being compensated for revenues lost as the result of a new, competing casino. The Ho-Chunk say that the state could even be forced to make payments to the tribe instead of the other way around.
Yes, Kenosha would likely benefit economically from a new casino — at least for a while, maybe even if other tribes get to add still more casinos in Beloit and Sheboygan and Shullsburg to the dozens that already exist. Maybe even as online gambling proliferates. Maybe.
But Kenosha would lose something, too — something big and promising.
Evan Zeppos, the spokesman for the Menominee, tells me the casino "would arguably be the largest taxpayer in the state and it is probably the highest, best use for the property."
But here's the rest of the story.
Dairyland sits on 221 acres directly west (even closer to I-94) of the thriving Business Park of Kenosha — the same park that was in the news recently when a big, Illinois lighting company with 400 employees announced plans to move north. Once Kenall Manufacturing moves in, the business park — but for one relatively small parcel — will be full of companies producing everything from medical devices to centrifuges to electrical equipment.
The Dairyland property could be developed in all sorts of ways now that other nearby lands are filling up — and that eventually will result in a windfall for local and state tax coffers.
It's already happening nearby. The million-square-foot Amazon distribution center slated for land just a little north of Dairyland could produce millions in local tax revenue once tax incremental financing is paid off. More importantly, it will raise approximately $30 million in state sales tax in the first year alone and add over 1,000 full-time jobs. Oh, and the site Amazon will occupy is far smaller than the Dairyland property.
This corridor along I-94 includes some of the most desirable land in Wisconsin. Somebody other than the Menominee will be interested. Don't build it, and they will come.
The Menominee do not own the old racetrack land. Yes, the tribe could still control it through an option even if Walker nixes the casino. But at some point, even the tribe would have to face facts. Better to say no to all new casinos and let the free market determine Wisconsin's economic future.
A simple drive around Kenosha should open everyone's eyes to that.