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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Mohegan casino infects discourse

by Bassey Etim
Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A red plague spreads from Connecticut "sucking billions from Massachusetts." It soon overwhelms New York and New Jersey as a munching sound crescendos toward the announcer's foreboding prose. It darts into the heart of Pennsylvania. Then, it sets its sights on Kenosha. The red virus quickly envelops much of Wisconsin. As the website Noeastcoast.com flashes across the screen, it is evident a worthy cause has been scuttled by its own exuberance.

That was one of two TV ads from the coalition group Wisconsin Gaming for Wisconsin, whose stated goal is to "inform citizens of gaming issues affecting the state," according to a press release. But they were actually founded to oppose a bid by Connecticut's Mohegan tribe to construct the nation's largest casino between Atlantic City and Las Vegas in nearby southeastern Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Gaming for Wisconsin has a legitimate gripe. In 1993, the state voted to approve gaming rights for local American-Indian tribes. Because the deal doesn't seem to extend this right to out-of-state tribes, the Mohegans who own the massive Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut are building this $808 million facility for the local Menominee tribe and will take 13.4 percent of revenues for seven years, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The beauty of our Wisconsin's gaming policy is that it kills three political birds in one stone. First, religious groups that fear the corrosive impact of gambling on local communities and society as a whole see gaming limited, while those who want to gamble can still do so. Second, impoverished American-Indian groups, who have been continually robbed by the U.S. government, have an exclusive means of revenue to support themselves.

Finally, the state of Wisconsin doesn't see potential gambling cash go to other states, and the state gets a sizable chunk of gaming revenues to invest in public programs.

While the Mohegans may well have humanitarian motivations in constructing this casino, it's not unreasonable to view this reach by a rapidly expanding financial empire as a threat to the economic vitality of local tribes. It would essentially let select American Indian tribes circumvent state law by sharing revenues with locals and allow financial powerhouses like the Mohegans to build a national gaming conglomerate. This may seem like everyone wins at first, but in practice, billions will be siphoned off from local tribal economies to help far-off powerhouses.

Wisconsin's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Milwaukee Urban League, VISIT Milwaukee and the Forest County Potomatami Community were wise to form Wisconsin Gaming for Wisconsin. Quite simply, it is an interest group, and a massive casino in Kenosha is against its interests. Heck, it's even got a persuasive title.

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Maria Monreal-Cameron admits the group hasn't yet had a formal meeting. Nonetheless, the goals of these local leaders reflect the values of Wisconsin voters.

"We can only have so much gaming," Monreal-Cameron told me in a phone interview. "And we have a proven organization in place already that contributes to the overall economy of the city and county."

Although they have an important point to make, an over-the-top advertising campaign meant to exploit the perceived xenophobia of this Midwestern state does a disservice to their cause. Even worse, Monreal-Cameron admitted she had not even seen the commercials currently flooding the airwaves across Wisconsin, although she said the group did discuss the intent of the ads.

"They are meant to bring attention to the fact that this tribe from an outside state is a threat to what's already been established here," Monreal-Cameron said.

Maybe this is how politics gets so nasty. Interest groups with legitimate concerns contract their messages to snooty advertising companies who transform community politics into a Freudian study of human impulses. Insulting the intelligence of Wisconsinites by appealing to the culture-wars mentality and personifying the Mohegan tribe as a red plague will backfire. Who seems more reasonable? The Mohegans who say they want to build an $808 million casino for the downtrodden Menominee tribe or the interest group running those ads with the spooky background music?

East Coast gaming interests should not be granted a stake in Wisconsin gaming, even if it will benefit local tribes. The public is already leery about gambling, and the idea of out-of-state business interests making money while we deal with the societal consequences of casinos might spawn a backlash that would cripple all gaming in Wisconsin.

Regardless, local advocacy groups like Wisconsin Gaming for Wisconsin should cringe at their own ads before voters have to.

Bassey Etim is a junior majoring in political science and journalism.

Comment:  The ad in question is no longer online, but it showed a red stain spreading across a map from Connecticut to Wisconsin. Did the organization take it down because it had served its purpose, or because it was slammed as racist?

Most tribes need wealthy investors to launch a casino because they don't have the capital themselves. This situation is no different. Whoever the Menominee hired, it probably would be an out-of-state company.

In other words, a small share of the profits would leave Wisconsin no matter what. The proper response to that is "so what?" Out-of-state investors probably invest in Wisconsin businesses, and thus remove a portion of the profits, a thousand times a day. It's racist to single out this investment as if its any different from the other 999.

Related links
The facts about Indian gaming

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