Wisconsin Governor vetoes Ojibwe casino
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MAY 15, 2001

Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum on Monday dealt a blow to three Ojibwe tribes and vetoed their long delayed plan to build an off-reservation casino in Hudson.

In a letter to the Department of Interior, McCallum said he would not concur with the agency's February decision to take the Hudson dog track into trust for the tribes. Approving the project would not be in the best interests of the three impoverished tribes, he said, or local communities, who expressed wavering degrees of support and opposition.

"The public interest simply is not served by the addition of a major casino gaming facility to the existing gaming industry," wrote McCallum.

The move hardly comes as a surprise, as McCallum has opposed expanded gaming in the state. After taking over the Governor's office when Tommy Thompson left to join the Bush administration, the tribes hoped to convince him otherwise.

The tribes offered to shut down one of their existing facilities, as to overcome the prohibition on "expanded" gaming. But the pleading did not sway McCallum, even as he acknowledged the tribes could definitely use some economic stimulus on their reservations.

Since gaming law requires McCallum's approval for an off-reservation casino, the decision effectively kills the tribes' proposal. Unless, that is, they win their recently filed lawsuit and force the government to let the casino move forward.

But for the Lac Courte Oreilles, Red Cliff, and Sokagoan bands, McCallum's move is just one in a long line of setbacks which -- so far -- they have been able to overcome. After the government rejected their land-into-trust proposal in 1995, they sued and forced then Secretary Bruce Babbitt to reconsider the decision.

Along the way, the proposal was the subject of high-profile Congressional hearings on whether opposing tribes made at least $350,000 in campaign contributions to Democratic interests in order to sway Babbitt and other officials. An independent investigation cleared Babbitt of any wrongdoing last year, but he left office before the Interior could weigh in on the plan.

Secretary Gale Norton and Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs James McDivitt in February finally approved the 55 acre facility. The St. Croix Ojibwe Tribe of Wisconsin and the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Community of Minnesota then filed suit, fearing competition.

The bands released a statement yesterday, promising to move forward with their lawsuit. Although the site was some 80 to 200 miles away from the tribes' reservations, they have argued it is within their ceded aboriginal territory.

Relevant Links:
Chippewa Meadows Gaming & Racing -
Gov. Scott McCallum -
Testimony on The Department of Interior's Denial of the Wisconsin Chippewa's Casino Application -

Letter to Janet Reno from the Committee on Government Reform -

Related Stories:
Gaming suit aimed at ousting state's role (5/11)
Norton fields questions from tribal leaders (2/23)
BIA approves off-reservation Ojibwe casino (2/21)
Babbitt casino report released (8/23)
Tribe suing DOI over casino (7/18)