Poll: Majority of Kenosha County Residents Support Hard Rock Casino in City

By Daniel Gaitan, Kenosha News

Kenosha County residents favor a Menominee Indian Tribe and Hard Rock International casino by a more than two-to-one margin, with 60% of local residents supporting the project and 25% opposed, according to the results of a recent poll commissioned by the tribe’s gaming commission. 

According to the survey conducted by the Tarrance Group in September, a proposed Kenosha casino has even higher support levels in the four-county region that also includes Racine, Waukesha, and Milwaukee counties.  Based on the poll of 600 regional residents, support for a project in the area was 60% in favor and 15% opposed, a more than three-to-one ratio of support among those polled. 

A breakdown of the four-county data shows that support was the highest in Waukesha County, where 63% of the respondents favored the project. Similarly, support was high in Racine County (62%) and Milwaukee County (58%).

“Kenosha area residents have made up their minds, and they support a casino by a wide margin,” said Ron Corn Sr., chairman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin in a media release. “They understand the value of attracting more visitors to Kenosha who will spend more money locally, help create more jobs, and make Kenosha a destination to enjoy big name entertainment.

“The Menominee project in partnership with Hard Rock will generate more revenue for both the City and County of Kenosha, and the community overwhelmingly supports the project,” he said.

Corn said the survey results are “good news for Kenosha and good news for the Menominee, especially because they show bipartisan and regional support for approving the project.”

The poll was performed by the Tarrance Group of Alexandria, Va., which has conducted other polls in Wisconsin during the past two decades. The research was done during the last week of September. A total of 600 calls were completed, with half of them being with Kenosha County residents and the other half being with residents in Racine, Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. More than half of all the calls were completed with respondents on their cell phones.

“We are grateful for this continued high level of support,” Corn said. “We are confident that a project can be an economic catalyst for Kenosha and a regional draw for people from Wisconsin, Illinois, and other places. The combination of a Hard Rock Casino, Hard Rock Cafe, Hard Rock Hotel, and a Hard Rock Live entertainment venue will be a magnet that will draw visitors who want to experience all that Kenosha has to offer.

“With its many museums, attractive lakefront, and growing food scene, a Kenosha casino is sure to be one of the top travel destinations in Wisconsin, and we are excited to move this project forward one step at a time,” Corn said.

According to the survey, all age groups in the four-county area indicated a majority of support for the project, with the highest support score of 67% in favor coming from respondents in the 35-54 age group.

Kenosha County support

In Kenosha County, 60% of respondents expressed support for the project, while 15% of respondents stating they were unsure about it and 25% opposed. In Kenosha, a younger demographic group topped the support list, with 74% in favor of the project among those aged 18-34.

In Kenosha, according to the survey, females with jobs registered support for the project at 65%. Males with jobs recorded 62% support for the project.

Blacks and Hispanics in Kenosha also expressed strong support for the project, with the poll showing 67% and 75% support, respectively.

“There is widespread support for the project in Kenosha, in the region, and among virtually all voting blocs,” according to the survey.

The survey narrative also said: “The project is well-known by Kenosha voters, and the prospect of attracting more visitors who will spend more money in the community, spur further job growth, and generate new revenue for both the City and County are viewed as overwhelmingly positive reasons to be supportive. Residents have supported the casino project through two previous referendums, and this data supports the view that the community has made up its mind in favor of the Kenosha casino as proposed by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and Hard Rock International.”

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said he’s not surprised by the results and said past referendums yielded similar levels of support.

“We’ve had a couple of referendums on the issue and the numbers (of this poll) seem to be the about same. … It’s in the range of how people voted,” Antaramian said. “I’m not surprised with these results they now have.”

In 2004, 56% of Kenosha County voters approved of the casino in a nonbinding referendum.

Six years before that, in the fall of 1998, 57% of Kenosha County residents voted against a referendum to ban casino gambling, expressing support for what was then known as the Paradise Key project, the first Menominee Nation venture to develop a casino at Dairyland Greyhound Park.

More recently, a 2014 Marquette University Law School poll found 49 percent of area residents supported a casino while 35 percent opposed it. 

Project in motion

In July, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin announced it was partnering with Hard Rock International to relaunch the tribe’s efforts to open an entertainment center and casino on the west side of the City of Kenosha.

Menominee would own the casino and its related facilities, and Hard Rock would serve as developer and manager of the project.

“Hard Rock has a long standing partnership with the Menominee Tribe and is proud to support them in their continued efforts to bring a world-class gaming and entertainment resort to the Kenosha community,” Hard Rock International COO Jon Lucas said in a statement at the time. The Seminole Tribe of Florida owns Hard Rock International.

While previous plans called for the Menominee-Hard Rock entertainment center and casino to be built at the site of the former Dairyland dog track, the new site being proposed is just west of Interstate 94 on about 60 acres of land in the city.

The property was previously owned by the Village of Bristol. The Village Board and the Community Development Authority voted unanimously to sell nearly 59.91 acres of land for $15,213,221 over the summer.