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Stockbridge-Munsee tribe threatens to stop casino payment

MADISON (AP) -- A Shawano County Indian tribe threatened Monday to withhold nearly $1 million in casino payments to the state because of a dispute with the expansion of another tribe's gambling operation in northern Wisconsin.

Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans President Shannon Holsey notified Gov. Scott Walker in a letter about the tribe's intent to withhold a $923,000 payment related to its ongoing dispute with the Ho-Chunk Nation.

"We do need the state to follow its legal duties and enforce compacts for the good of all gaming in Wisconsin," said Stockbridge-Munsee attorney Dennis Puzz.

Withdrawing the money, due June 30, could result in the dispute ultimately heading to state or federal court for resolution.

The two tribes operate nearby casinos in central Wisconsin about 40 miles east of Wausau in Shawano County. The Stockbridge-Munsee run the North Star Mohican Casino and Resort in Bowler. The tribe argues the $33 million expansion of the Ho-Chunk casino 17 miles away in Wittenberg is a violation of both federal law and the Ho-Chunk Nation's casino state compact.

The Stockbridge-Munsee want the state to stop the expansion. The tribe argues the Ho-Chunk casino expansion not allowed under a 2003 amendment to its compact with the state that allowed the Ho-Chunk to open the casino as an "ancillary facility" in 2008.

"They are only allowed, under the compact, to operate an "ancillary facility" much like the one stops in Green Bay that the Oneida operates," explained Puzz.

Puzz added, that the Ho-Chunk are also operating the casino on land not eligible to be used for gambling under federal law.

In a statement the Ho-Chunk said "Gaming compacts between the State and other tribes have different definitions of "Ancillary Facility" and this may have caused some confusion for Stockbridge."

  • Click here to read more of the Ho-Chunk Nation's statement and the Wittenberg expansion facts

But so far its arguments have not prevailed with Walker's administration. The state Department of Administration determined in September that the Ho-Chunk expansion does not violate its compact with the state. And the threat from the Stockbridge-Munsee on Monday to withhold the payment didn't change the administration's position.

"Simply put, the Stockbridge is getting the deal it agreed to with the state in 2003," said Walker administration spokesman Steve Michels in an email. "Likewise, the Ho-Chunk is getting the deal it agreed to with the state in 2003 as well. The state expects the Stockbridge to adhere to the terms of their compact."

All 11 of Wisconsin's federally recognized Indian tribes have compacts with the state setting parameters for their gambling operations and how much in payments they must make each year.

Holsey, the Stockbridge-Munsee president, said in a press release it was threatening to withhold its payment to the state as a last resort after failing to resolve the issues.

"Now we are being forced to pursue all legal remedies available to protect our 1,200 tribal members, hundreds of employees and the various local organizations who rely on our support," Holsey said.

Holsey said she hoped to resolve the dispute "without expensive and protracted litigation."

Puzz, the tribe's attorney, said it can file a lawsuit if it can't reach resolution with the state after 30 days, a deadline triggered by submission of Monday's letter.

The Stockbridge-Munsee argue the Ho-Chunk expansion will take money away from its much smaller casino and be economically devastating. A study it commissioned that was released in January determined the tribe could lose 37 percent, or $22 million, of its gambling revenue each year due to the larger Ho-Chunk facility.

Under the expansion that began last fall, the Ho-Chunk facility will increase the number of slot machines from more than 500 to nearly 800, add an area with high-limit gambling, as well as an 86-room hotel and 84-seat restaurant and bar.

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