Hard Rock Kenosha Casino Project With Menominee Tribe Gains Preliminary Approval

Posted on: November 10, 2023, 08:49h. 

Last updated on: November 21, 2023, 04:18h.

Hard Rock International and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin are a step closer to bringing their $360 million casino resort to reality.

Hard Rock Kenosha casino Menominee
A majority of the Kenosha City Council, seen here in a March 2023 photo, this week issued preliminary approval for a tribal casino resort. The $350 million project comes from the Menominee Indian Tribe and Hard Rock International. (Image: Kenosha News)

The Menominee Tribe and Hard Rock are seeking to gain local, state, and federal approval for a tribal casino in Kenosha, Wis. On Thursday night, they cleared the first hurdle when the Kenosha City Council voted 12-3 in favor of an intergovernmental agreement between the Menominee Indian Gaming Authority and the City of Kenosha. The contract intends to transfer approximately 60 acres of land currently owned by the city located just west of Interstate 94 at 60th Street.

The Menominee Indian Tribe last year renewed its partnership with Hard Rock for a tribal casino. In exchange for helping the tribe achieve its economic goals by bankrolling the project, Hard Rock, which is owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, one of the richest Native American groups in the US, would operate the Menominee casino and share in its profits.

Hard Rock in 2022 paid $100K to Kenosha city for the option to purchase the 60 acres of land, which is located. The full purchase price for the property, if the casino project is fully greenlit, will be $15 million.

Hard Rock Kenosha Details

The Kenosha City Council says it will give final consideration to the Hard Rock and Menominee Kenosha casino on November 20.

If the council grants its full blessing, the tribe will then need to have the land taken into the federal trust by the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. For lands to be accepted, tribes must demonstrate historical ties to the property for it to be deemed sovereign and protected tribal territory.

Once in the trust, federally recognized tribes, such as the Menominee people, can operate Class I and II gaming on the land. Such gaming includes bingo games, punch boards, and pull tabs. For slots and table games, and possibly sports betting, Class III compacts with the tribe’s host state are needed.

The tribe and Hard Rock want to build a 70,000-square-foot casino with approximately 1,500 slots and 55 table games. A sportsbook is to be determined. The resort plan calls for a Hard Rock Café, buffet, steakhouse, and Asian restaurant. A 150-room hotel and 18,000-square-foot ballroom is additionally included.

The three city councilors who voted against the project cited varying reasons.

Alderman Dave Mau voted no on concerns that the city shouldn’t be sanctioning land for a specific business purpose. Alderman Kelly Mackay said she simply opposes gambling. Alderwoman Holly Kangas said she isn’t opposed to a casino, but believes the process is moving too quickly, as the council only recently received the tribe and Hard Rock’s latest plan.

Second Try at Kenosha Casino

This isn’t the first time the Menominee Tribe and Hard Rock sought approval for a casino in Kenosha.

The partners pitched a larger $800 million resort development nearly a decade ago that gained formal local and federal approvals, but was ultimately rejected by then-Gov. Scott Walker (R). Since the casino would be tribally owned and require a Class III gaming compact to operate slot machines and table games, the governor has the final say on whether to approve such a revenue-sharing agreement.

The Menominee Tribe and Hard Rock are back with hopes that Gov. Tony Evers (D) is more willing to support the tribe’s economic expansion. The tribe already owns its namesake casino, the Menominee Casino Resort, in Keshena on its sovereign reservation. That casino, however, is a small facility with only a few hundred slot terminals.

Kenosha is a much more attractive market than Keshena, as the city is between Chicago to the south and Milwaukee to the north. Kenosha is home to about 100K people, and is the fourth-most populated city in Wisconsin.