Members of the Lac du Flambeau tribe appear evenly split on whether to build a casino in southern Wisconsin.
In an advisory referendum on Wednesday, tribal members voted 140-138 to discontinue funding the tribe’s fee-to-trust application budget this year for the off-reservation facility.
The Tribal Council, the tribe’s governing body, will seek alternative funding sources for the application process, according to a press release from the tribe. Funding so far has come from the tribe’s general fund.
Brandon Thoms, the tribe’s director of public relations, said Friday that officials were in the process of analyzing the implications of the referendum. Thoms declined further comment.
Joseph Hunt, a consultant advising the tribe on the proposed casino, said he was not surprised by the outcome of the referendum, which he said would not halt the project.
“The referendum was virtually a tie,” Hunt said. “It’s going to be the council’s decision how we proceed.”
In 2004, the tribe bought 92 acres of land in Shullsburg, in Lafayette County, for the proposed casino. In 2012, tribal members voted 217 to 141 to submit a fee-to-trust application to the federal government for that land.
Plans call for a casino, hotel, event center, campground and sportsman’s club. According to the tribe, the project could bring 600 permanent jobs and 800 construction jobs.
In March, the tribe and the city of Shullsburg announced that they had approved an intergovernmental agreement for the proposed casino.
But much work on the project remains, including an environmental assessment of the site where the casino would be located. There could also be potential hurdles from the state government and other tribes, according to officials.
Hunt declined to reveal what specific issues tribal members have raised about the casino, telling the newspaper that he does not comment on “internal tribal policies.”
But one opponent is Bill Poupart, a tribal member and business owner. He said the tribe should focus on local development.
“It’s ridiculous. We can’t even run our own casino right,” Poupart said in an interview, referring to the tribe’s Lake of the Torches casino in Lac du Flambeau.
Poupart questioned whether the Shullsburg casino is a viable venture. He said he doubted that the tribe would be able to obtain financing for and get final approval of the project.
Poupart also said the tribe should instead work to improve the economy on the reservation. He said the tribe could build a wide range of local businesses in Lac du Flambeau, such as a water park, a construction firm or even, he said, an ammunition manufacturing plant.
“Why should we put money in Shullsburg and not do things for people around here where we have basically 80 percent unemployment, probably 70 percent drug addiction?” Poupart said. “We just need to focus on here. People here need jobs, and putting something in Shullsburg is not going to give people here jobs.”
Many residents of Shullsburg, however, want the casino. Tom Lethlean, the city’s former mayor, said he supports the tribe’s proposal “a hundred percent.”
Lethlean, who now heads a citizens’ group working to help secure the casino, said the facility would create jobs and spur development.
“(The casino) brings a degree of diversification to the local economy of Lafayette County and surrounding areas,” Lethlean said.
Tribal Council Chairperson Tom Maulson and Shullsburg Mayor Gloria Swenson were not available for comment as of press time.
Jonathan Anderson may be reached at email@example.com.