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Worth the risk?

Andrew Smith worried about the casino nestled outside Green Bay when he became the city’s police chief three years ago.

Smith was returning to the city after a 27-year stint in the Los Angeles Police Department, and he feared the casino could breed crime and stir drunken behavior.

“I thought that was going to cause me, as chief, a significant amount a trouble,” Smith said. “And to be honest with you, it really hasn’t. There’s really nothing that’s come up that’s been a concern for me ... it’s been a nonissue.”

In Beloit, city officials are echoing Smith as the Ho-Chunk Nation’s proposal to build a massive casino and resort in the city reaches the 11th hour, with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs reviewing the tribe’s application to transfer about 33 acres into the federal trust.

Officials say they’re not worried that crime would surge. The tribe’s proposed $405 million development off Interstate 90/39 a mile north of the Wisconsin and Illinois border would create jobs, grow the local economy and mark Beloit as a tourist destination, they said.

The casino would be the second-largest in Wisconsin with about 2,200 slots and 50 tables. Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee would be the only casino larger in the state.

“When you’re bringing in a large amount of people … something will happen,” Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski said. “Someone falls and gets hurt. There’s a car accident. There’s retail thefts from the establishment. I wouldn’t call it anything of concern. I think it would just be the normal growth of a city.”

If the project comes to fruition, Beloit would join about 460 communities across the country—including about 19 in Wisconsin—with casinos. Collin Price, a public relations officer for the tribe, said the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs could hand down its decision this spring.

If the bureau approves it, Gov. Tony Evers would have to sign off for the project to proceed. A spokeswoman wrote in an email to The Gazette that Evers “will be carefully reviewing the application and listening to all sides involved with the issue to ensure fair consideration,” though he has previously said he would support it.

In anticipation of the decision, The Gazette spoke with law enforcement officers in communities with casinos in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Most agreed with Smith, saying casinos don’t appear to bring more crime than other large-scale developments.

‘A community partner’

Paul Lauria is the police chief and director of public safety in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, where a sprawling, 210,000-square-foot casino sits on the outskirts of the city about 150 miles northwest of Detroit.

Lauria said his department doesn’t have jurisdiction over the casino. The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe has a federally authorized police force that patrols the resort and the Isabella Indian Reservation reservation, which hems in the city’s northern perimeter.

Casino visitors often spill into the city of 26,000 and patronize local businesses, Lauria said. He admitted that occasionally can be problematic, with cash-strapped visitors ordering meals or fueling up their cars with no money. Lauria said a few banks have been robbed.

In lieu of property taxes, the tribe donates 2 percent of the casino’s electronic gaming winnings to the city for programming, equipment and infrastructure improvements. Lauria said those payments and the overall contribution of the casino “by far” outweigh any unintended consequences or criminal mischief.

“We would not be in a position that we are in without their (the tribe’s) generosity, without the economic draw of the casino,” Lauria said. “They are a true community partner, especially when it comes to making the community better.”

Lauria said Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant creates a similar dynamic. The university naturally generates some criminal activity by attracting more people, he said, and some of them may bring personal baggage and make mistakes.

He said the same could be said for a concert in a cornfield.

“Isn’t that going to bring a certain amount of crime?” Lauria said.

In Bangor, Maine, a city of about 32,000, law enforcement officials cite similar experiences with the Hollywood Casino, which is planted on Main Street along the Penobscot River.

The local police department has not seen a huge spike in calls to the casino, Bangor Police Department Sergeant Wade Betters said. Occasionally, the department will respond to a car accident in the casino’s parking garage or intoxicated driving and trespassing issues there, Betters said, but it’s relatively infrequent.

“I can honestly tell you that they’re one of the very few establishments which sell alcohol that are proactive in notifying the police should one of their patrons leave and drive,” Betters said.

In Beloit, Zibolski said the Beloit Police Department would have jurisdiction over the casino and would be able to make arrests there. Price said law enforcement jurisdiction at casinos differs with each state, but the tribe will have a security force, and any law enforcement agent with arresting authority in the state could make arrests in the casino.

Gambling effects

In recent months, some Beloit residents have raised questions about the tribe’s proposal. A citizens group held a public meeting in December to scrutinize the project and the city’s handling of it. A handful of residents spoke out against the casino at the bureau’s public hearing on the draft environmental impact statement Dec. 11.

Some opponents say the casino could foster addiction in a city struggling with poverty and crime.

In Black River Falls, City Administrator Brad Chown didn’t hold back praise when asked about the Ho-Chunk Nation’s casino there. He said it’s a “huge employer” in Jackson County, helping mitigate poverty and drive economic development.

The Ho-Chunk Nation’s tribal office is located in Black River Falls, and Chown, who worked at the local casino in the marketing department for 10 years, said three of the city’s eight council members are Ho-Chunk Nation tribal members.

Price, who is a former Wisconsin State Patrol officer, said the nation has imposed a $10 an hour minimum wage for its employees. He said the jobs offered at the development would be diverse, including cooks, HVAC engineers, accountants and marketing professionals.

“We are in business to provide good-paying jobs and also offer a great experience for our guests,” Price said. “Crime is not good for business. Crime’s not good for customers; it’s not good for a community. And that’s the way we look at it.”

Price said the tribe works with the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling, a non-profit agency providing resources, a 24-hour hotline and public awareness on gambling disorders.

Rose Blozinski, the group’s executive director, said Ho-Chunk Nation tribal members sit on the council’s board. She said the agency has a “very good” relationship with the tribe and that they are active in developing a responsible gambling program.

Blozinski said the agency receives more calls about casino gambling to their hotline than other types of problem gambling. In 2017, Blozinski said the agency received 12,647 calls. That number swelled to 13,869 in 2018.

It’s unclear if compulsive, pathological gambling addictions—which afflicts 1 percent to 3 percent of gamblers—are more common in communities with casinos, Blozinski said. Those with gambling disorders may frequent casinos within a 100-mile radius of their homes, or some may gamble locally.

“Certainly, when it’s closer to home, some people may try it who haven’t in the past, and that may increase the amount of people who become addicted,” she said. “Most people can gamble for fun.”

The development

Prospects of a casino in Beloit have swirled for decades. In 2001, the city partnered with the Bad River and St. Croix Chippewa tribes to build a casino at the same site as the Ho-Chunk Nation’s current bid.

Multiple efforts to build that casino fizzled. The federal government denied the project in 2009, and a developer sold the property to the Ho-Chunk Nation that year. The city, the Ho-Chunk Nation and Rock County signed an intergovernmental agreement in 2012.

Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther said the city and tribe likely would start moving forward with a development agreement if the bureau approves the final environmental impact statement in the spring. That would allow the city to make headway while Evers considers it, which is anticipated to take at least six months.

Luther said gaming is “one element” of the development, pointing to the 300-room hotel, 40,000-square-foot indoor water park, 175,00 square feet of retail space, convention center, outdoor amphitheater and onsite daycare.

Luther said the city doesn’t have convention center space conducive for hosting large, corporate gatherings. Business conventions in the state are largely held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Dells and Door County. A new, sizable convention center in Beloit could establish the city as a business destination, Luther said, “and I find that incredibly exciting.”

According to the intergovernmental agreement, the tribe would pay the city and Rock County 2 percent of its net win each quarter in lieu of property taxes. The county would receive 30 percent of that and the city will receive 70 percent.

Recent estimates of net win shares are about $5 million annually, with the city receiving about $3.5 million each year. The 33 acres in the federal trust would not be subject to property taxes, but the remaining 40 acres of the development would be.

The city’s fundamental identity would not change if the project is approved, Luther said. The development would be the city’s largest employer, estimated to create about 1,500 jobs. That could lure new residents to the area, Luther said, and ultimately serve as an opportunity to “make some improvements” to the city.

“Beloit’s a much different place now than it was before,” Luther said. “While we’ve made a number of improvements and we’ve made a great deal of economic development and growth, compared to peer communities, we still have a long way to go. And I view this project as helping us to get there.”

Obituaries and death notices for Jan. 27, 2019

Donald B. Brick

Cheryl J. Diderich

Marge Henning

John McConnell Wood

Margaret Mooney

Michael O’Brien

Darlene J. Oldenburg

Jodi Poff

Edith Annette (Brunsell) Schueler

Karen E. Sova

Shirley J. Wilson

YMCA CEO Tom Den Boer: Accusations ‘have no basis in fact'

Tom Den Boer


YMCA of Northern Rock County CEO Tom Den Boer said in a release issued Saturday that many recent comments and accusations about his work at the YMCA “have no basis in fact or are founded on innuendo.”

The statement is Den Boer’s first correspondence with The Gazette since a group of Y members issued a letter in December airing concerns over transparency and wrongful dismissal of board members. The release is dated Thursday and was shared with The Gazette on Saturday through Den Boer’s attorney, Colin Good.

The release comes directly from Den Boer and has nothing to do with the Y’s current board, which has issued its own statements to The Gazette in recent weeks.

The Y board placed Den Boer on administrative leave Wednesday pending the outcome of an internal investigation. Y Board President Steve Yeko Jr. did not give a specific reason why Den Boer was going on leave in a statement announcing that decision.

Earlier this month, the Y announced it had hired Milwaukee-based law firm Foley & Lardner to oversee the investigation related to concerns from former Y board members.

Three board members have told The Gazette they were wrongfully terminated from the board and not given a reason. Their removals came without a board discussion or vote, which is not allowed, according to a copy of the Y bylaws obtained by The Gazette.

Those three board members—Dan Honold, Jeff LaBrozzi and Larry Squire—say they were unilaterally removed by former Y Board President Jason Engledow. They had pushed Engledow and Den Boer for more transparency over financial matters and Y rules shortly before they were kicked off, they said.

Engledow, a Cedarburg resident who left the Y board in a Jan. 18 announcement, gives a statement supporting Den Boer in the press release shared with The Gazette on Saturday. He lauds Den Boer for successfully adding an aquatic center at the downtown Janesville Y and building the Parker Y in Milton, both under the shadow of the recession.

Engeldow says in the release that Den Boer would be an asset to any organization. He defends Den Boer’s salary as being consistent with annual performance standards and evaluations.

Den Boer was paid a salary of $291,640 in 2017. He also made an additional $25,000 for a “related organization,” according to IRS 990 tax filings.

Honold previously told The Gazette the $25,000 is a “management fee” for Den Boer to oversee the Y’s foundation investment accounts.

Another group of four Y members threatened legal action earlier this month against the Y, demanding access to the organization’s tax documents and other financial records.

That group is led by Paul Murphy, whose Y membership was suspended last month after he said he repeatedly asked for a copy of the bylaws. Murphy was a co-author of the December letter that launched the concerns over Den Boer’s leadership into the public sphere.

Murphy deferred comment Saturday to his attorney, Larry Barton, who is representing Murphy and the rest of the group. Barton has been retained as the group’s attorney as of Jan. 19.

Good, Den Boer’s attorney, says in the press release that people are “orchestrating this campaign to oust” Den Boer and that their comments are close to or could already be considered defamation.

Barton issued a statement in response to Good and Den Boer’s press release, saying Good “obviously misunderstands” the goals of his clients and other concerned members. There has been no campaign or request to remove Den Boer as CEO, Barton says in his statement.

He pointed out that a Jan. 20 letter he wrote to the Y’s attorney primarily requested the appointment of four unnamed additional board members. That letter does not mention Den Boer by name and does not make any reference to him.

In a follow-up phone conversation, Barton said claims of defamation are “ridiculous.” The group does not want to file a lawsuit against the Y but would consider it if they do not obtain their requested documents, he said.

In an email to a Gazette reporter sharing Den Boer’s press release, Good wrote that he would not be making any additional comments to the media.

The Gazette emailed Good and left a voicemail Saturday at the office of his Madison law firm, Hawks Quindel. Neither was returned.

The Gazette left a voicemail Saturday on Den Boer’s cellphone, which also went unreturned.

The Y’s next board meeting is scheduled for Monday, according to Yeko’s most recent public statement. Honold, LaBrozzi and Squire are invited to participate.

Analysis: Trump's shutdown retreat reveals weakness


President Donald Trump will emerge from the longest government shutdown in U.S. history politically weakened, his reputation questioned and his signature campaign promise still glaringly unfulfilled.

The 35-day partial shutdown over the president’s demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was, in the end, futile. Facing defections within his own party, sagging poll numbers and public criticism for interrupted services, the self-proclaimed master dealmaker accepted an agreement that he had previously spurned and set an ignominious record that will remain part of his legacy. Days after Trump marked the midpoint of his term, the shutdown highlighted the disquieting side effects of his unconventional governing style and the trials that lie ahead for him in dealing with emboldened Democrats.

The folly of the effort was readily apparent inside the White House, where aides had warned Trump even before the shutdown began that there was no avenue to success in the showdown with Capitol Hill. Democrats ran for office on preventing Trump from building the wall—and it’s hardly a popular idea even among Republican lawmakers. Advisers watched in shock as Trump declared in a December meeting with lawmakers that he would be “proud” to shut down the government.

And when he ultimately did just that, they feared the messaging war had already been lost.

“He was playing double-A ball against major leaguers,” said former Republican Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who once headed the House GOP’s campaign arm. By backing himself into the shutdown with no way out, Davis said, Trump displayed a lack of discipline from the start.

The strategic deficit was only magnified by what allies saw as tactical errors. Trump spent the holidays tweeting from the White House rather than making public appearances to showcase his readiness to negotiate.

He didn’t deliver a public address or visit the border to make his case until weeks had already gone by. Perhaps most crucially, he underestimated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the unity of congressional Democrats.

Trump’s message zigzagged sometimes by the hour. He maintained he was proud of shutting down the government and then tried to pin the blame on Democrats. One moment he signaled he was ready to concede the wall in favor of other barriers on the border, and the next he tweeted he was fighting for the wall as strongly as ever.

By the end of the shutdown, West Wing aides and outside allies of the president began to look at the seminal promise of Trump’s 2016 campaign as an immense—and unachievable—burden on his presidency.

It was complaints that Trump appeared to be passing up his last, best opportunity to make good on his build-the-wall pledge that led Trump into the shutdown to begin with. Conservative commentators and House Freedom Caucus members fired off warnings that Trump’s base would sour on him if he didn’t use the last days of unified GOP control of Washington last year to try to get money for the barrier.

But in his quest to appease his base, the president tarnished his standing with the American public. Overall, 34 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance in a survey released this week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s down from 42 percent a month earlier and nears the lowest mark of his two-year presidency.

The impasse was an early test for Pelosi after her return to the speakership, one that she appeared to pass handily. Democrats remained unified against White House efforts to divide the caucus, and they head into the next round of debate over border security funding determined to make good on their own 2018 promises to block Trump’s wall.

Pelosi made clear her party remained resolved against the wall.

“Have I not been clear?” she said. “No, I have been very clear.”

Trump, characteristically, refused to concede that he had conceded. Instead, he insisted he hadn’t caved to Democrats, and he threatened yet another shutdown even while bemoaning the last one’s impact on Americans.

“This was in no way a concession,” Trump tweeted late Friday. “It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”

Tom Den Boer