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Ho-Chunk Nation faces opposition to casino expansion project



"Here we go! Project Forward is here!" the Ho-Chunk Nation declared on Facebook. Photo by Ho-Chunk Nation

A new Indian gaming controversy is brewing in Wisconsin among tribes and Gov. Scott Walker (R).

The Ho-Chunk Nation is investing $153 million in expansions at three facilities, including one in Wittenberg. Plans call for 86-room hotel and a casino with larger gaming floor.

The effort has leaders of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community and the Menominee Nation crying foul. They want Walker to block the $33 million project because they say it violates the Class III gaming compact.

"We find it hard to believe that Gov. Walker would endorse such a broad reinterpretation of state compact language given the profound consequences for future gaming expansions in Wisconsin," Stockbridge-Munsee President Shannon Holsey told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "All we are seeking is a fair resolution that protects the validity of tribal-state compacts."

"Failure to act does a disservice to tribes in the state that operate gaming facilities in conformance with federal law and their compacts with the state," Menominee Chairwoman Joan Delabreau wrote in a letter, the paper reported.


A provision in the Ho-Chunk Nation's Class III gaming compact authorizes Class III gaming at four primary facilities and five ancillary facilities. The casino in Wittenberg is considered an ancillary facility. Source: Wisconsin Department of Administration

The dispute centers on a provision in the Ho-Chunk Nation's Class III gaming compact that addresses secondary or "ancillary" casinos like the one in Wittenberg. According to a 2003 amendment, an "ancillary" facility is one where no more than 50 percent of the property is used for gaming purposes.

"This has nothing to do with any other tribe or any other tribe's compact," Ho-Chunk Nation spokesperson Collin Price told The Wisconsin State Journal.

But the controversy also touches on issues of competition and fairness that ensnared Walker in the midst of his failed Republican presidential bid. He killed an off-reservation casino for the Menominee Nation, saying it proposed an economic threat to other tribes and the state.

The two situations are "completely different," a spokesperson for the Department of Administration told The Journal Sentinel. The state believes the Wittenberg expansion complies with the compact.

Yet the same department recently expressed surprise after being informed of a different casino expansion project. The St. Croix Chippewa Tribe is building a larger St. Croix Casino Hertel Express and a local newspaper questioned whether the effort violates a provision similar to the one in the Ho-Chunk Nation's compact.

Read More on the Story:
Casino expansion raises objections (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 10/19)
Tribes object to Ho-Chunk casino expansion in Shawano County (The Wisconsin State Journal 10/19)

Related Stories:
St. Croix Chippewa Tribe casino project seen as a surprise to state (10/03)
Ho-Chunk Nation starts work on $153M gaming expansion project (09/26)
St. Croix Chippewa Tribe breaks ground on casino replacement project (09/14)
Ho-Chunk Nation announces $153M in casino expansion projects (08/16)
Ho-Chunk Nation secures approval to offer liquor at gaming facility (08/12)