Tribe Asks Judge to Block Competing Casino Expansion

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, a Wisconsin tribe, filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to prevent the expansion of a competing Ho-Chunk casino, claiming the state is violating agreements with the tribes by allowing the development.

The federally recognized tribe, which has a reservation in Wisconsin’s Shawano County, sued the state, Gov. Scott Walker and the Ho-Chunk Nation in Madison federal court on Wednesday.

“The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians and other tribes are calling upon Governor Walker and his Administration to fairly enforce state gaming compacts for all tribes and put a stop to the unlawful Ho-Chunk Wittenberg expansion from an ancillary facility to a full-blown casino resort,” the tribe said in a statement released by its public relations firm, Reputation Partners LLC.

The Stockbridge-Munsee claim an expansion to the Ho-Chunk gaming casino violates a mandate that Ho-Chunk is only allowed to run an ancillary facility, not a full-on gaming facility, in Wittenberg, Wis. An ancillary facility is defined as one in which more than half of its space is not used for gambling.

“Because the primary business purpose of the Wittenberg Casino is gaming, it violates the Ho-Chunk Compact’s requirement that any gaming facility owned by Ho-Chunk within Shawano County be limited to an ancillary facility,” the complaint states.

The Ho-Chunk casino announced its expansion plans in August 2016 and broke ground a month later. The expansion includes around 800 slot machines, 10 table games, an 86-room hotel, restaurant, bar and high-limit gaming area.

Just 12 miles down the road is the Stockbridge-Munsee’s North Star Casino, the largest revenue source for the tribe’s government. With over 460 employees, 56 are members of the tribe.

The Stockbridge-Munsee cite a study released by Market and Feasibility Advisors of Chicago projecting an annual $22 million loss in revenue for the tribe if the Ho-Chuck expansion is allowed to go through.

The tribe seeks a court order stopping the casino expansion. If it doesn’t get that, it wants to stop making yearly payments to the state under a compact that is supposed to protect the tribe’s interests.

“The State has violated its class III gaming compact with the Tribe by allowing the Ho- Chunk Nation to operate a gaming facility in Shawano County in violation of its own class III gaming compact and federal law, and by demanding that the Tribe continue to make annual payments to the State without protecting the Tribe’s interests as required by its compact,” the lawsuit states.

The Stockbridge-Munsee are represented by Scott Crowell in Sedona, Ariz., Bryan Newland of Fletcher PLLC in East Lansing, Mich., and in-house counsel Bridget Swanke.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Administration said “the Ho-Chunk are authorized to conduct gaming in Wittenberg” under the terms of its compact with the state, as amended in 2003, according to a Wisconsin Public Radio report.