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Wisconsin court gives casino projects a big boost

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MADISON, Wis. ñ The Wisconsin Supreme Court removed a major barrier to tribal casino projects recently when it rejected a constitutional challenge to state gaming compacts. A series of compact extensions negotiated by Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, have been a major political issue, drawing fire from the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Republican candidate for governor in this yearís election.

The ruling clears a major hurdle for the Menominee Tribe of Indians casino project in Kenosha, backed by the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut. But the immediate beneficiary was the Forest County Potawatomi Community, which announced after the July 14 decision that it would begin a long-delayed expansion of its casino in Milwaukee by mid-September. The $240 million project would triple floor space and add a six-story parking ramp. Tribal Attorney General Jeff Crawford said that its completion in 2008 would add 1,000 employees, for a total of 3,000, and could double casino revenues.

The 4 ñ 3 split opinion held that the original state ñ tribal compacts dating to 1991 remained valid in spite of a 1993 amendment to the state constitution limiting gaming. It said the compacts with 11 tribes were protected by the contract clauses of the state and federal constitutions. Since the amendment did not invalidate the original agreements, the court continued, their renewals were also protected. It overruled a previous decision saying Doyle had exceeded his authority in agreeing to an expansion of casino offerings.

The Menominee plan to take over the failing Dairyland Greyhound Park on the federal highway between Chicago and Milwaukee, a prime location that would put them in competition with the Potawatomi casino. The $808 million project, backed by the Mohegans, would build hotels and a 3,000-slot casino and entertainment complex. The Mohegans have signed investment and management contracts for the casino that would bring them 13 percent of net revenues for the first seven years. They have already invested more than $4 million with the Menominee.

The Potawatomi have lobbied actively against the Menominee project, saying openly it would cut into their own revenues.

The Supreme Court ruling ironically came on a suit brought by the Dairyland Greyhound Park before it signed the sales contract with the Menominee.

Racetrack management blamed competition from tribal casinos for a sharp drop in its business.

Tribal casinos in Wisconsin did about $1.2 billion in business last year. The new agreements negotiated with Doyle would pay the state government about $115 million.

MADISON, Wis. ñ The Wisconsin Supreme Court removed a major barrier to tribal casino projects recently when it rejected a constitutional challenge to state gaming compacts. A series of compact extensions negotiated by Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, have been a major political issue, drawing fire from the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Republican candidate for governor in this yearís election.The ruling clears a major hurdle for the Menominee Tribe of Indians casino project in Kenosha, backed by the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut. But the immediate beneficiary was the Forest County Potawatomi Community, which announced after the July 14 decision that it would begin a long-delayed expansion of its casino in Milwaukee by mid-September. The $240 million project would triple floor space and add a six-story parking ramp. Tribal Attorney General Jeff Crawford said that its completion in 2008 would add 1,000 employees, for a total of 3,000, and could double casino revenues.The 4 ñ 3 split opinion held that the original state ñ tribal compacts dating to 1991 remained valid in spite of a 1993 amendment to the state constitution limiting gaming. It said the compacts with 11 tribes were protected by the contract clauses of the state and federal constitutions. Since the amendment did not invalidate the original agreements, the court continued, their renewals were also protected. It overruled a previous decision saying Doyle had exceeded his authority in agreeing to an expansion of casino offerings.The Menominee plan to take over the failing Dairyland Greyhound Park on the federal highway between Chicago and Milwaukee, a prime location that would put them in competition with the Potawatomi casino. The $808 million project, backed by the Mohegans, would build hotels and a 3,000-slot casino and entertainment complex. The Mohegans have signed investment and management contracts for the casino that would bring them 13 percent of net revenues for the first seven years. They have already invested more than $4 million with the Menominee.The Potawatomi have lobbied actively against the Menominee project, saying openly it would cut into their own revenues.The Supreme Court ruling ironically came on a suit brought by the Dairyland Greyhound Park before it signed the sales contract with the Menominee.Racetrack management blamed competition from tribal casinos for a sharp drop in its business.Tribal casinos in Wisconsin did about $1.2 billion in business last year. The new agreements negotiated with Doyle would pay the state government about $115 million.