Editorial: Tribal gaming is good for Wisconsin

Editorial from the BELOIT DAILY NEWS
Beloit, Wisconsin (AP)

Barring a miraculous change of heart by the Bush administration and its political appointees at the Interior Department, Beloit will not see any positive movement this year for the gaming casino complex proposed by the Bad River and St. Croix bands.

Maybe that’s a real concern over the distance between a proposed casino and a tribe’s reservation land. Maybe it’s anti-tribal prejudice and paternalism, as critics and plaintiffs have alleged in legal actions against Interior. Or maybe it’s a favor for established gaming interests who have persuaded their friends in Washington to stifle the competition.

Whatever it may be, the tribes are not the only ones being hurt.

A state audit released recently suggests every taxpayer in Wisconsin may be footing a bigger bill because gaming revenues are not what they could be.

The audit found that Wisconsin tribes paid the state almost $200 million over the last three years. Of that amount, more than $75 million was allocated for specific state government programs while about $115 million was deposited in the general fund to meet operating costs. The remainder, around 2 percent of the total, was spent on gambling regulation.

Without that money, taxes would be higher to meet those needs.

And the amount going into state coffers would have been even more, without the Ho-Chunk tribe’s dispute with state government. The Ho-Chunk Nation paid the state $30 million, but state officials say the tribe actually owes $70 million more under its compact. The Ho-Chunk Nation is among Wisconsin’s richest, and readers will remember the tribe’s long and expensive campaign to kill the Beloit plan. This dispute clearly provides one more reason Wisconsin authorities should not listen to the Ho-Chunk’s complaints.

But that’s an argument for another day. The point is this: Tribal gaming is good for Wisconsin. It provides substantial revenues to support government programs all over the state. It provides jobs and growth in host communities. And it brings desperately needed money into the reservations to support Native American people.

The Beloit plan is solid. The Bad River and St. Croix have been reliable and consistent partners. All parties involved have followed the rules and taken great care to meet all applicable requirements. That’s why, at the staff level, the Beloit plan has received a positive recommendation from the feds.

Citizens and the tribes should not give up hope. There will be a new sheriff in D.C.-town, come next January, perhaps someone who will give the tribes a fairer shake than the Bush administration.

Then Gov. Jim Doyle could make his decision. The right one, we hope.

If so, a Beloit casino can begin contributing significant sums to the state, the county and the city.