- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2000

An open invitation for organized crime

KENOSHA, Wisconsin
The decision by a local Indian tribe to establish an off-reservation casino in this once-grimy industrial city of 85,000 people has split the community in two, and threatens to create new rivalries and tensions between a number of the state's tribes. It has also raised concerns about organized crime's potential for muscling in on the cash cow gambling that many tribes have taken to calling the "new buffalo."
Supporters of the proposed Paradise Key casino say that they plan to take a money-losing dog track running near Interstate 94 and turn it into a $250 million-plus bonanza. The investor group includes the Menominee Indians, a tribe which like scores of other indigenous peoples has successfully run its own on-reservation gaming since a 1987 Supreme Court decision effectively legalized casino gambling on reservations.
The sale of the Dairyland Greyhound Park to the Menominees for $45 million would allow the tribe and its investment partners to take advantage of recent laws and court decisions that would permit the Indians to put the 45-acre site into federal trust. This would remove it from the tax rolls.
In November 1998, a bitterly contested referendum in which 27,000 voters turned out saw the casino proposal win 57 to 43 percent, in a contest in which pro-gaming forces counted on the support of most of the local political and business establishment and a huge war chest. The head of the local investor group is Joseph Madrigan Jr., whose family owns a local liquor distributorship; however, the driving force behind the casino is former Rep. Morgan Murphy, Democrat of Illinois.
In the mid-1980s, Kenosha, my hometown, was one of scores of rust-belt cities in the Midwest facing virtual economic extinction. The local American Motors plant, which once employed 12,000 well-paid union workers, all but shut down. Since that time, the city has increasing become a bedroom community for Chicago. In 1997, a Readers' Digest survey listed low crime and drug use rates as reasons Kenosha was the second best city in the United States to raise a family. The city's past has a darker side, however. In the 1930s, Kenosha's "west side" where thousands of immigrants from southern Italy, particularly Calabria, settled to work at Nash Motors was home to a Mafia war. (Even today, Kenosha's power brokers tend to be the sons and grandsons of Calabrezze immigrants.)
In the early 1960s, gangland efforts to muscle in on the business of a local pinball operator ended up with the entrepreneur's body found in a shallow grave outside the city, his mouth filled with pinballs. The outrage caused then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to call the city "a training ground for the Mafia."
In a recent television investigative series run by the CBS-affiliate in Milwaukee, WDJT, it was revealed that several local clergymen and at least one public official claimed that they were threatened for their anti-gambling views. In addition, state Attorney General James Doyle warned that the casino may open the door to organized crime, and that Wisconsin law-enforcement is not prepared to deal with the problem.
In particular, questions are being raised about former Rep. Murphy's relationship to John Serpico, a one-time business partner who was indicted last August for money laundering, racketeering and fraud. Mr. Serpico, who together with Mr. Murphy once owned a Chicago television studio, in 1985 testified before Congress that his friendship with leaders of the Windy City's mob was based on childhood friendships. According to published accounts, when the pair first bought the studio in 1983 one of the investors included John Crededio, who in 1984 was jailed after refusing to tell a grand jury about his alleged links to top crime bosses.
The Kenosha experience is unique in that it marks one of the first times concerns about organized crime influence has entered the debate over Indian gambling. Yet, that issue is not the only one critics brandish in running a rearguard effort to stop the casino. (The Bureau of Indian Affairs apparently will have the last word in deciding whether to allow the tribe to place Dairyland Greyhound land in federal trust, a decision expected very soon.)
A review of crime statistics done by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year showed that property crime increased in six of 12 Wisconsin counties with casinos during their first six years of operation, even as crime in the state declined as a whole. Cases of gambling addiction are also reported way up in the state. "Today, gaming is often the only viable source of employment and governmental revenues available to tribes," claims the National Indian Gaming Association. "Indian gaming has been a major catalyst for community growth and economic development … Indian people now see gaming as an integral part of tribal economies and the means to achieve self-sufficiency."
However, Indian communities, too, have found that gambling has wrought havoc on already impoverished reservations. Some critics point out that gaming for profit is antithetical to tribal values, based as it is on the illusions of "something for nothing," and "there's a sucker born every minute." Others point out that Indian gambling has helped to divide tribes among themselves witness the ongoing rivalry between the Menominee and Wisconsin's Potawatomi over gambling concessions. Or from within as in last year's bitter fight for leadership of the tribal council of the casino-rich Saginaw Chippewa of central Michigan.
And sometimes, as in the still-unprosecuted slayings of two anti-casino Indians from the Mohawk Nation a decade ago, violence erupts.
When it comes to Indian gaming it is hard to know what is more criminal the potential infiltration by organized crime into another sphere where their presence was heretofore unknown or the exploitation of the economic plight of Native Americans in order to promote an industry whose effects are as toxic as the smokestacks that once billowed over Kenosha.

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