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  • Gaming Industry Awaits Ruling

    Thursday, July 6th, 2006 by Mike

Not even the Dairyland Greyhound Park racetrack owners who brought a longstanding lawsuit seeking an end to tribal casinos expect a ruling that will go that far. But plan on some legal fireworks when the state Supreme Court finally issues its decision in the casethat seeks to change the odds in the state’s gambling industry. The court’s term formally ended Friday, but it still has about a dozen cases to decide.

The gambling ruling might come down in the next few weeks, a court spokeswoman said.

A death sentence for the state’s 28 casinos and mini-casinos – exactly what the Dairyland owners asked for when the suit was filed in 2001 – “would be a huge, huge stretch,” said Roy Berger, Dairyland’s vice president.

“It would be unrealistic to think the Native American gaming industry is going to go away because of this decision,” Berger said, even if the high court tilts toward Dairyland’s view that Wisconsin’s casinos have grown beyond what state voters had in mind in approving a 1993 constitutional amendment restricting gambling.

Dairyland, the state’s sole surviving pari-mutuel racetrack, still is looking for a foothold in the casino business. In Wisconsin, casino gambling is legal only on tribal trust land. It’s a business that’s grown from small change a decade ago to over $1.2 billion last year.

Instead of advocating obliterating the industry, which now boasts 35,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state, Dairyland argues that the court should perhaps turn back the legal clock to 1998.

That would reimpose old limits on casinos – no roulette, craps or poker anywhere and fewer slot machines at the state’s biggest grossing casino in Milwaukee, operated by the Forest County Potawatomi tribe.

In Berger’s dream scenario, such a ruling would be quickly followed with a move in the Legislature to amend the state constitution once more, this time permitting casino games at the Dairyland track in Kenosha. Tavern owners and perhaps others also would likely seek a piece of the action, after years of futile efforts to crack into the casino market.

“We would like to compete in any way we can,” said Berger. “What we are looking for is some equity.”

Any ruling altering the casino status quo is likely to be quickly challenged in federal court. Potawatomi officials say the tribes are operating under terms of federally approved casino deals, and those take precedence over state law.

The tribes are not active participants in the Dairyland case but say uncertainty from the unsettled case has hurt their businesses.

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