Work in Casino
The Potawatomi tribe wasn't the only big winner in the Menominee tribe's losing battle to open a casino in Kenosha. Lawyers hired by the state to advise Gov. Scott Walker's administration on the issue also did pretty well.
The state paid the Michigan law firm of Dykema Gossett $2.2 million to advise the Walker administration on the Menominee tribe's application to open the off-reservation casino and for other legal work involving tribal casinos, according to figures released Wednesday in response to an open records request by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The Menominee bid was met with fierce opposition by the Potawatomi tribe, which operates a lucrative Milwaukee casino and which spent millions lobbying the state and the public to stop the potential new competitor from entering the marketplace.
In addition to advising Walker's team, Dykema Gossett also negotiated compact agreements — the contracts between the state and tribes outlining the operation of tribal casinos — involving three tribes, said R. Lance Boldrey, the Dykema partner who oversaw the firm's work.
The firm also represented the state during an arbitration hearing over language in the Potawatomi compact dealing with how the tribe would be reimbursed if it lost business to a new competitor, Boldrey said, noting that some of the fees were used to pay expert witnesses.
Dykema also used $473, 808 of the cash it collected from Wisconsin to pay Nathan Associates, a California consulting firm that studied the economic impact of the proposed Menominee casino.
The question of whether the Menominee could open an $800 million casino complex in Kenosha landed on Walker's desk in August 2013 when the federal government approved the project. As governor, Walker has unilateral veto power over any off-reservation casino in Wisconsin.
It appeared initially that Walker would reject the Menominee project. But the political winds seemed to shift in October 2013 after the tribe hooked up with Hard Rock International, which agreed to finance and manage the casino complex.
Ultimately, Walker killed the Kenosha proposal out of concern that the state could be on the hook for any lost business suffered by the Potowatomi — a conclusion the Menominee disputed.
When Huebsch first disclosed that outside lawyers would be hired, he also raised the prospect of asking the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to give Walker extra time to make a decision on the casino — an extension which was later granted. The extension moved Walker's deadline to February 2015, well past the 2014 gubernatorial election.
Cullen Werwie, spokesman for the administration department, said seeking the extension and hiring Dykema were not to done to allow Walker to delay making a decision until after the election. Rather he said, the outside firms were needed to engage in the "exhaustive process" of studying the casino information and providing Walker with enough information "to make sure he could make an informed decision."
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