Study finds Ho-Chunk expansion could cost other tribes $37 million

A rendering of the proposed $33 million Ho-Chunk expansion in Wittenberg.

Ho-Chunk Nation

A Ho-Chunk casino expansion in northern Wisconsin would draw $37 million in gambling revenue per year from other tribes, according to an economic impact study commissioned by the tribe that would take the biggest hit.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians stands to lose $22 million, or about 37 percent of its gambling revenue, at its North Star Mohican Casino and Resort in Bowler, according to the study by Chicago-based Market & Feasibility Advisers.

The Stockbridge-Munsee casino is about 17 miles east of the Ho-Chunk Wittenberg facility, which broke ground on a $33 million expansion that will increase the number of slot machines from 506 to 778, while adding an area with high-limit gaming and 10 table games, and constructing an 86-room hotel and 84-seat restaurant and bar.

The Stockbridge-Munsee have asked the state to intervene, saying the expansion violates the terms of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s casino compact with the state. However, the Department of Administration determined in September that the expansion of the Wittenberg facility does not violate the compact.

“We’re investigating all options going forward,” said Dennis Puzz, a Stockbridge-Munsee lawyer. “If this goes forward, this is our lifeblood, this is our revenue source. If no one is going to step in and enforce the compact, we’re going to be forced to compete.”

Puzz said the tribe has asked the state to hire a lawyer to review the Ho-Chunk compact and come to a different conclusion. If a resolution can’t be reached, the tribe may consider filing a lawsuit.

DOA spokesman Steve Michels said the state has not yet read the economic impact study. A spokesman for the Ho-Chunk Nation did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the study, the casino gambling market is completely saturated in Wisconsin, particularly in the northern part of the state.

The study projected four other tribes — the Potawatomi, Oneida, Chippewa and Menominee — would lose a combined $14.7 million in revenue at nine casinos.

The Ho-Chunk would also lose $8.3 million at two locations, but the Wittenberg facility would gain $45 million in revenue.

The expansion would also mean the Ho-Chunk nation would have five of the top 10 revenue-generating casinos in the state, though its market share would increase by only one point to 34 percent, the study found.

Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, said he’s not sure if anything can be done, but he’d like to see a resolution that doesn’t damage the Stockbridge-Munsee.

“They’re already a poor tribe,” Cowles said. “I see it as imminently unfair to this tribe. It’s a shame that this was allowed to happen.”

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Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.