The Stockbridge-Munsee tribe of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit this week against several parties in order to fight a casino expansion of another tribe in Shawano County. Named in the lawsuit are the state of Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker and the Ho-Chunk Nation. The lawsuit aims to end a dispute involving the expansion of a gambling facility owned by the Ho-Chunk Nation.
The lawsuit declares the state of Wisconsin is in violation of their compact with the Stockbridge-Munsee as they are not protecting the interests and rights of the tribe by allowing another tribe to develop a Class III gambling facility that is located near the only casino they operate. The tribe is seeking a preliminary injunction that would block the Ho-Chunk Nation Casino Wittenberg from expanding until a resolution can be reached within the lawsuit.
The dispute against the gaming facility in Wittenberg has been ongoing and is the latest step by the Stockbridge-Munsee to fight the expansion. Before tribal gaming compacts were renegotiated in 2003, such venues were not allowed to have a table games as far as gaming was concerned, nor a hotel or restaurant.
In 2016, the Ho-Chunk Nation broke ground on their planned expansion, with $33 million set to be spent. Slot games would increase to 778 from 506 and a high-limit gaming area is to be added. Ten table games will be added to the facility along with a hotel featuring 86 guest rooms. A restaurant and bar are also included in the casino plans. The expansion is set to finish up later on this year.
The Wittenberg gaming facility is located closer to Wausau then the North Star Mohican Casino Resort, which is the only casino operated by Stockbridge-Munsee. The tribe is worried that since the expanded casino will be closer to Wausau, they will see a negative effect on revenues. The revenue earned by the casino helps to fund a large portion of government services. According to a study commissioned by the tribe, they could lose as much as $22 million due to the competing Wittenberg facility.
Last year, the Stockbridge-Munsee raised objections towards the expansion plans of the Ho-Chunk Nation and this set in motion a review by the state Department of Administration. The compacts were reviewed and the Department found that the expansion was not in violation. By February of this year, Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel wrote in a letter, according to the Washington State Journal, that the tribe had the ability to file a lawsuit in order to resolve disputes that involved the state compacts.
By March, the tribe had sent a letter to the state saying they would be withholding a payment due on June 30th of $923,000 due to the dispute and they asked to begin the process of dispute resolution. The state responded, seeking a meeting with lawyers of the tribe. A meeting took place, but no resolution was found in the matter, so the lawsuit was filed.
Yesterday, Department of Administration spokesman Steve Michels said that the state has been consistent as well as clear in honoring the compacts with all tribes located in Wisconsin. As far as the Ho-Chunk Compact is concerned, as it as amended by the Doyle Administration in 2003, the tribe has the ability to conduct gaming in Wittenberg, according to Michels.
The Ho-Chunk Nation also responded to the lawsuit by stating that the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe has spread false information on the matter and continues to litigate their opposition to the improvement of the Wittenberg facility and expansion project to the media. Wilfrid Cleveland, the President of the Ho-Chunk Nation stated that the tribe is prepared to safeguard their interests and are confident that they will be successful in court and will finally be able to resolve the issue.