Stockbridge-Munsee continue legal fight over Ho-Chunk Casino

Tribe believes suit dismissal was in error

The Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe is not backing down from its legal fight against the Ho-Chunk Nation gaming expansion in Wittenberg, in spite of a court ruling in October dismissing the lawsuit.

The Stockbridge-Munsee sued the Ho-Chunk and the state in April over the expansion of the Ho-Chunk’s ancillary gaming facility into a full-fledged casino.

The Ho-Chunk facility is 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, a federal judge found that the Stockbridge-Munsee should have sued in 2008 when the Ho-Chunk casino first opened.

The Stockbridge-Munsee maintain the judge erred in that decision and issued a news release Thursday saying the tribe was seeking reconsideration of the ruling.

The tribe argued that, as a sovereign federally recognized Indian tribe, the Stockbridge-Munsee’s claims against the Ho-Chunk and the state are not subject to Wisconsin statutes of limitations.

The tribe also alleged “continuing violations of law by both the Ho-Chunk and the state,” including fraud, which would make the tribe’s lawsuit exempt from the statute of limitations.

“As we said before, apparently it was our mistake to have believed the multiple public and private assurances from both the state of Wisconsin and Ho-Chunk that the Wittenberg facility would be no more than ‘mini-mart’ gaming,” said Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal Council.

“We took prompt and timely action, as is our legal right, when it became clear that the Ho-Chunk were violating their state compact to build a $41 million full blown casino resort while the state simply looked the other way,” she said.

According to the tribe, the court’s ruling applied a Wisconsin contracts law six-year statute of limitations to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which contains no statute of limitations for such enforcement action by a state or a tribe.

“All we are seeking is fair consideration of our claims, and will continue to pursue our rights,” Holsey said.

The Stockbridge-Munsee’s North Star Casino Resort opened in 1992.

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.

Last year, the Ho-Chunk announced a $150 million expansion of the Wittenberg casino, 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.

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.

The Ho-Chunk gaming expansion opened in October and had a ribbon-cutting ceremony last month. The hotel is expected to open in January or February.

Ho-Chunk officials could not be reached for comment.