The Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin’s expansion of its Wittenberg casino has raised concerns with two other Indian tribes in the state who say that it does not fit past criteria for gambling growth established by Governor Scott Walker.
Last month the Ho-Chunk Nation broke ground on a $33 million expansion of its Wittenberg facility, which will increase the slot count from 506 to 778, add a high-limit gaming area and 10 table games, and an 86-room hotel, and restaurant and bar with seating for 84.
The Menominee Indian Tribe and Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans say that allowing the former Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe to expand the once limited gambling hall located east of Wausau could lead to further expansion by the Ho-Chunk, along with other tribes, adversely affecting smaller tribes in the state. The two tribes are requesting that the state Department of Administration block the expansion, according to The Journal Times. They say it is in violation of the terms of the Ho-Chunk’s tribal compact with the state. They also claim that the expansion conflicts with the criteria Governor Walker established and used to reject the Menominee Nation’s bid early last year for an $800 million off-reservation casino at the defunct Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha. The proposal by the Menominee Tribe and Hard Rock International that was approved by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the subsequent rejection by the once presidential candidate cost the tribe a significant number of badly needed jobs as well as revenue that would have been generated by the casino, which was expressed by Menominee tribal legislator Craig Corn at the time.
Walter was able to block the Kenosha development, but due to the fact that the Wittenberg site is located on tribal land, the same authority doesn’t exist. Walker and the Ho-Chunk Tribe say that the case is beyond the scope of the state because the expansion by the Ho-Chunk is within the perimeter of the guidelines established in a 2003 compact with Wisconsin. Administration spokesman Steve Michels, said, “The question in the Kenosha casino proposal was whether private land would be taken into trust by the United States for the Menominee so a tribal casino could be constructed on that land. In such a case, the governor has broad authority to approve or deny taking the private land into trust,” and, “In this case… the question is whether the Ho-Chunk Nation’s expansion on the parcel violates the provisions of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s compact. It does not,” according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Stockbridge-Munsee president Shannon Holsey said that he doesn’t think the Walker administration fully grasps the gravity of the situation and the potential the growth has to snowball into further expansions by the Ho-Chunk tribe and at least two other tribes. A sentiment shared by State Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, who is concerned about the possible effects the expansion could have on smaller Wisconsin tribes. Cowles said, “The larger tribes have to be more sensitive to what I would call the less economically advantaged poorer tribes,” and, “We’ve got a flock of smaller tribes that are struggling. If the larger tribes don’t show some concern about that, it’s not fair.”
Ho-Chunk is also currently expanding its full-scale Black River Falls and Wisconsin Dells casinos as part of its Project Forward expansion announced in Agust.