Wisconsin Ho-Chunk Casino Expansion Challenged by Rival Tribes

Posted on: October 19, 2016, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: October 19, 2016, 09:54h.

Wisconsin casino expansion Ho-Chunk Scott Walker
A Wisconsin casino expansion project by the Ho-Chunk Nation doesn’t violate its state compact, and Governor Scott Walker says the tribe’s gaming developments are out of his control. (Image: Associated Press)

The Wisconsin Ho-Chunk Nation casino expansion currently underway at its Wittenberg facility violates state gaming laws, so says the Stockbridge-Munsee and Menominee tribes.

Ho-Chunk Gaming, the gaming arm of the Ho-Chunk Nation, operates six land-based gaming facilities in the Badger State.   

In August, Ho-Chunk announced major renovations at three of its casinos including Wittenberg. In addition to adding an 86-room hotel and 272 more slot machines, the Wittenberg expansion includes 10 table games and a new high-limit area.

Wisconsin is home to 17 full-scale tribal casinos, but free of any commercial gambling establishments. The state’s gaming law also calls for up to seven “ancillary” casino sites, venues that are typically slots-only facilities that often accompany truck stops and gas stations.    

Ho-Chunk Wittenberg has been one of those ancillary sites. Located just off US Route 45 in Wittenberg, the slots parlor sits behind a Phillips 66 service station.

Stockbridge-Munsee and Menominee argue Ho-Chunk does have the right to expand the venue, citing the 2003 Indian gaming compact reached with the state.

“If this was the case, the 2003 compact amendment simply authorized nine major gaming facilities and renders the definition of ‘ancillary facility’ meaningless. This was plainly not the intent of the language,” Stockbridge-Munsee President Shannon Holsey wrote in a letter to Governor Scott Walker (R).

Walker Walks Away

The Stockbridge-Munsee and Menominee tribes are petitioning Walker to intervene in the Ho-Chunk’s plans, but the governor says he doesn’t have the authority to do so. Walker’s office says Ho-Chunk’s expansion falls within its compact with the state and doesn’t violate the definition of an ancillary casino.

Wisconsin defines an ancillary gambling hall as “a facility that has a primary business purpose other than Class III gaming, where no more than 50 percent of the square footage is used for gaming, and the total size of the ancillary facility is not materially greater than the total size of ancillary facilities operated by other Tribes in the State of Wisconsin.”

By adding the hotel and an 84-seat restaurant and bar, Ho-Chunk keeps its non-gaming square footage over the minimum 50 percent mandate.

“We are extremely excited to grow and offer new amenities that will only enhance one of the best entertainment experiences in the region,” Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland said. “It’s a win-win for everyone when we can create more jobs throughout Wisconsin and add more value to our guest’s experience.”

Ho-Chunk the Big Cheese

One of the original inhabitants of Wisconsin, the Ho-Chunk Nation remains one of the most powerful Native American groups in the state.

Stockbridge-Munsee and Menominee are fighting the Ho-Chunk’s expansion at three of its casinos due to their own gambling interests.

Located just 10 miles to the east from Ho-Chunk Wittenberg is the North Star Casino Resort, owned and operated by Stockbridge-Munsee. Drive another 15 miles east and you’ll arrive at the Menominee Casino Resort.

Both facilities feature hotels and restaurants to complement their casino floors featuring slots and table games.

In early 2015, Walker blocked the Menominee’s wishes to build an off-reservation casino in Kenosha.