Judge Won’t Block Wisconsin Tribe’s Contested Casino Expansion

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Ruling against another tribe, a federal judge in Wisconsin held Wednesday that the Ho-Chunk Nation can move forward with a casino expansion because the legal challenge to the development was brought too late.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, a Wisconsin tribe, filed a lawsuit in April against the Ho-Chunk Nation, Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker, asking a federal judge to halt the expansion.

The tribe argued that 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.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Peterson dismissed the Ho-Chunk Nation from the case in a 12-page ruling.

He found that the challenge to its gaming activities could have been filed as early as 2008, when the Wittenberg casino opened, and noted Wisconsin’s six-year statute of limitations for breach of contract claims.

“The Stockbridge-Munsee had six years to call attention to the Wittenberg casino’s alleged violations of the Ho-Chunk Compact, but failed to do so,” Peterson wrote.

He continued, “The Stockbridge-Munsee’s claims against the Ho-Chunk are untimely, so the court will grant the Ho-Chunk’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismiss them from the case. It appears that the Stockbridge-Munsee’s claims against the state may be untimely, too.”

The judge noted that Wisconsin and Gov. Walker have not yet filed a motion to dismiss, but preserved a statute of limitations defense in their court filings.

Both federally recognized tribes’ casinos are only 12 miles apart in Shawano County, Wis.

The Stockbridge-Munsee’s North Star casino is the largest source of revenue for the tribe’s government and 56 of its 460 employees are tribe members.

Its April lawsuit cited 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 Stockbridge-Munsee sought a court order stopping the casino expansion. Otherwise, it says it wants to stop making yearly payments to the state under a compact that is supposed to protect the tribe’s interests.

The $33 million dollar expansion to the Ho-Chunk casino is set to be finished by the end of this year and will add more than 200 slot machines, 10 table games, a hotel, restaurant and bar.

The Stockbridge-Munsee said it will appeal the judge’s ruling.

“Apparently our mistake was believing the multiple assurances from both the State of Wisconsin and Ho-Chunk that the Wittenberg facility would be no more than ‘mini-mart’ gaming,” Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal Council, said in a statement. “Yet when we learned in 2016 that the Ho-Chunk were shifting from simply pushing the limits of their purported ancillary facility to completely violating their State compact to build a $41 million full blown casino resort, we took timely and proper action. Our lawsuit merits and timing are just, and fully permitted under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. We intend to vigorously continue pursuing the avenues for justice that are afforded to us.”

Counsel for Ho-Chunk, the state and Gov. Walker did not immediately respond Thursday to emails requesting comment.

Ho-Chunk is represented by attorneys from Rapport & Marston and Husch Blackwell. Wisconsin and Walker are represented by the state’s Department of Justice.

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

%d bloggers like this: