Tribe asks judge to halt Ho-Chunk expansion

State officials say plan complies with compact

The Associated Press

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Construction is in progress for the expansion of the Ho-Chunk Gaming facility along U.S. Highway 45 in the town of Wittenberg. The expanded facility is in violation of state gaming compacts, according to the neighboring Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, based near Bowler.

Contributed Illustration This rendering provided by Ho-Chunk Gaming shows the new hotel and renovations planned for the Wittenberg property. The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans has filed a federal lawsuit to block the project.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday asking a judge to block another tribe from expanding a competing casino, arguing the project violates both tribes’ gambling compacts with the state.

The Ho-Chunk Nation wants to add hundreds of slot machines, table games, a restaurant and a hotel to its casino in Wittenberg, and construction has begun. The Stockbridge-Munsee say the development, less than 20 miles from its North Star Casino, could lure away gamblers and cost the tribe $22 million per year.

“We don’t relish having to take this step, but do so to protect our sovereign right to self-determination,” Stockbridge-Munsee President Shannon Holsey said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.

The lawsuit argues the Ho-Chunk’s compact allows them to run only what is called an ancillary facility in Wittenberg — one where less than half the revenue comes from gambling — and the expansion would violate that agreement. The suit also asserts the land wasn’t placed into trust until 1993, and federal law prohibits gambling on trust land acquired after 1988.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs determined the Ho-Chunk placed the land in trust in 1969, and a 2003 amendment to the Ho-Chuck’s compact allows expansion, according to a February letter from Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel. The letter came three months after the Stockbridge-Munsee asked Gov. Scott Walker’s administration for help.

The lawsuit alleges the state is violating its compact with the Stockbridge-Munsee because Walker has done nothing to stop the expansion.

Department of Administration spokesman Steve Michels said in an email to The Associated Press that the state has been consistent in honoring gambling compacts with all tribes. He insisted that under the 2003 amendment to the Ho-Chunk agreement the tribe is authorized to conduct gaming in Shawano County.

Ho-Chunk spokesman Collin Price didn’t immediately return email messages seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The Stockbridge-Munsee filing seeks a preliminary injunction to stop construction while the lawsuit is pending. In lieu of that, the tribe asks the judge to declare that the tribe doesn’t have to make its annual revenue-sharing payment to the state. The tribe already has warned Walker’s administration that it intends to withhold nearly $1 million in payments this year because of the dispute.

Ho-Chunk Gaming in Wittenberg is one of three Ho-Chunk Nation casinos slated for major renovations and expansion as part of a $153 million project dubbed “Project Forward.”

Groundbreaking for the $33 million project, which will be completed in phases, was held in September.