As if Wisconsin hasn’t had more than our share of polarizing politics, the Kenosha casino project now has an international participant, but with a potentially game-changing brand and a different focus on the issue of "splitting the same pie."
Hard Rock International announced yesterday their alliance with the Menomonee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin to develop and manage the proposed Kenosha venue. I had the opportunity today to talk to James F. Allen, the Chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming.
Much like the eclectic aspects of the Hard Rock casinos, hotels and cafes, our conversation started and ended with a couple of interesting topics.
I couldn’t resist the chance to start with one of my hardest rock trivia questions and I asked Allen if he knew who played lead guitar on the Tom Jones 1965 song "It’s Not Unusual." He freely admitted he didn’t know it was Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.
"We have a tremendous relationship with Jimmy," Allen said. "And he is in our branding video which we showed yesterday in which he says ‘It was a cool idea then and it’s a cool idea now.'"
Page was of course referring to the first Hard Rock which started in an old Rolls Royce dealership in London. Allen is talking up the idea of the Hard Rock brand collaborating with the Menominee Tribe at the old dog track in Kenosha.
"When the tribe was evaluating us, part of our presentation to them was the brand is one of the more iconic and global brands in the world about entertainment," Allen said. "We look at Kenosha with the proximity to the Illinois border with five million people within 50 miles."
Before a Hard Rock casino such as those in Las Vegas, Punta Cana, Biloxi and Tampa comes to Wisconsin the effort is a little more complicated than simply printing "Kenosha" on one of their iconic T-Shirts. The hurdles for the Menomonee proposed casino may have received preliminary approval from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, but it is a no-go without Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
And to date, Walker has looked for consensus among the other tribes. The Potawatomi have been most vocal about the erosion of current jobs and limited gaming related public spending. Allen believes the Hard Rock involvement truly does make this a new debate.
"The two or three tribes still uncommitted as far as their support should recognize that we are genuine and sincere in sitting down with them to make sure they are not harmed. This is a game changer with our brand to grow the market. Our brand will have tremendous impact to bringing people from Illinois to Wisconsin. Hopefully the tide rises all ships," says Allen.
Allen led the development of the Seminole Tribe’s flagships in Tampa and Hollywood Florida. Since he has thrown himself into a Wisconsin controversy, I felt OK throwing my ending curve ball question at him and asked if he would change the name of the NFL’s Washington football team?
Allen tackling it by saying, "In the Seminole’s case, they not only endorse Florida State calling their football and all sports programs Seminoles, they are very proud of it. But I 100 percent understand that many tribes feel sports team’s names can be disrespectful to their culture."
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