Stockbridge-Munsee suit against Ho-Chunk dismissed

Tribe failed to file suit within statute of limitations, judge says

Kevin Murphy, Leader Correspondent

A federal judge has ruled that the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe waited too long to challenge the expansion of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s casino in Wittenberg.

The Stockbridge-Munsee sued the Ho-Chunk and the state in April over Ho-Chunk plans to expand its casino in Wittenberg, about 20 miles away from the North Star Casino Resort operated in Bowler by the Stockbridge-Munsee.

The suit alleged the expansion could cost the Stockbridge-Munsee $22 million per year.

In dismissing Ho-Chunk from the suit Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Peterson found that the Stockbridge-Munsee should have sued in 2008 when the Ho-Chunk casino first opened.

“(U)nder a normal application of the statute of limitations, the Stockbridge-Munsee must have brought their claims against the Ho-Chunk by 2014, and their claims are now time-barred,” Peterson wrote in his decision.

The North Star Casino Resort opened in 1992. The Ho-Chunk began operating a casino near Wisconsin Dells in the early 1990s. In 2003, the state amended a compact with the

Ho-Chunk to allow it to open a casino in Shawano County as an ancillary facility. The Wittenberg casino opened in 2008.

The Ho-Chunk announced a $150 million expansion of the Wittenberg casino in August 2016, including a hotel, 200 more slot machines, 10 gaming tables, a restaurant and bar.

The Stockbridge-Munsee subsequently filed the lawsuit, arguing the Ho-Chunk’s compact allowed only an ancillary facility in Wittenberg — one where less than half the revenue comes from gambling — and the expansion would violate that agreement.

A representative of the Ho-Chunk said the tribe was confident the suit would be dismissed.

“We feel it is appropriate and comes as no surprise to us,” said Colin Price, a Ho-Chunk spokesman. “Now that it’s behind us we’re really focused on the opening the new parts of the project.”

A spokesperson for the Stockbridge-Munsee was not available for comment.

The tribe’s claim against the state also may be too late, Peterson wrote. However, since the state has not filed a motion to dismiss, he gave the parties until Nov. 8 to respond to whether the suit was filed in time.

The Stockbridge-Munsee have refused to make its nearly $1 million annual payment to the state claiming the state’s refusal to enforce the compact with the Ho-Chunk violates the Stockbridge-Munsee’s compact.

Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5 p.m. Wednesday on the new gaming floor, and the hotel should open in January or February, Price said.