Wisconsin Judge Tosses Stockbridge Lawsuit vs Ho-Chunk Casino

Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenburg Lawsuit

The Stockbridge-Munsee said the Ho-Chunk changed the terms of their license, damaging their casino 20 miles away.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans lawsuit against the Ho-Chunk Nation Casino expansion plan was tossed by a judge last week. The Stockbridge-Munsee Band was protesting the Ho-Chunk’s plan to build a new satellite casino in Wittenberg. The casino is expected to hold both slots and table games.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson, the judge who tossed the case, said the Stockbridge Munsee filed their lawsuit three years beyond the statute of limitations. The Ho-Chunk opened its casino in Wittenberg in 2008, but the Stockbridge-Munsee failed to file a lawsuit until after the end of the six-year statute of limitations in 2014.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band, for its part, argued that the Ho-Chunk Nation waited until after the statute of limitations had passed to expand their casino, making it a danger to the nearby Stockbridge casino.

Stockbridge Munsee Vs. Ho-Chunk

Judge James Peterson did not see it that way. The US district judge said in his written opinion on the case, “The Stockbridge-Munsee’s claims against the Ho-Chunk are untimely, so the court will grant the Ho-Chunk’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismiss them from the case.”

The judge did not dismiss a parallel lawsuit by the Stockbridge-Munsee against Governor Scott Walker and the State of Wisconsin, but he did note, “It appears that the Stockbridge-Munsee’s claims against the state may be untimely, too.”

Lawsuit over Wittenburg Casino

Judge Peterson added in his opinion on the case, “Here it is entirely reasonable to expect the Stockbridge-Munsee to have sued the Ho-Chunk over the operation of the Wittenberg casino well before 2014. They have known the facts supporting each element of their claims since 2008. They could have sued the Ho-Chunk then.”

“Instead, they acquiesced to the Wittenberg casino for nearly a decade, until the Ho-Chunk decided to expand. In other words, the Stockbridge-Munsee had six years to call attention to the Wittenberg casino’s alleged violations of the Ho-Chunk Compact, but failed to do so.”

The Stockbridge-Munsee declared that the state has not enforced its gaming compact with the Ho-Chunk. They have threatened to withhold almost $1 million in state payments.

Wittenburg Not an “Ancillary Facility”

The Stockbridge tribe’s lawyers argued that an expansion to the Ho-Chunk casino would violate a mandate that Ho-Chunk is only legalized to run an ancillary facility and that they are not allowed to run a full-on gaming facility. An ancillary facility is defined as one in which more than half of its space is not used for gambling.

The Stockbridge-Munsee also states that the land in Wittenberg, which was purchased in 1988, was ineligible for gaming thus violating the Ho-Chunk gaming compact. Under the 1988 Indian Gaming Act, only reservation lands are supposed to be used for gaming facilities, due to sovereignty issues. Tribes can buy new lands, but they usually need to be adjacent to the reservation, or otherwise be used to improve the tribal lands.

Stockbridge Indians’ Lawsuit against Wisconsin

Judge Peterson did not dismiss or close the other case regarding the Stockbridge-Munsee’s claims against the other defendants. Their lawsuit regarding the State of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker were late, yet Gov. Walker has not asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed. Instead, he has agreed to discuss and address the timeline issues.

Peterson denied an injunction that would have prevented the Ho-Chunk from using their new slot machines ang gaming tables. The judge stated, “Should the Stockbridge-Munsee fail to show that its claims against the state are timely, the court will dismiss the claims against the state.”

The Ho-Chunk Expansion Plan

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band has operated the North Star Casino Resort since 1992, which is about 20 miles east of Wittenberg. They fear that a full casino with table games and an expanded number of slot machines will hurt their own casino’s revenues.

The lawsuit cited a study that was released by Market and Feasibility Advisors of Chicago. It projected an annual $22 million of lost revenues for the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, if the Ho-Chunk’s Wittenburg casino expansion were to happen.

Ho-Chunk’s plans will expand the Wittenberg Casino by more than 200 slot machines and 10 gaming tables. The expansion also includes a new hotel, an additional restaurant, and a bar inside the casino. The Ho-Chunk tribe’s facility located in Wittenberg, currently has 11,000 square feet of gaming and 500 slot machines, but the Wisconsin Gaming Commission approved the $27 million expansion.

The expansion project is about 85 percent complete. The gaming floor will open up on Nov. 1 for their clients. The hotel and the remainder of the project aimed to be finished in February.

Stockbridge-Munsee Legal Arguments

The Stockbridge-Munsee argued that the statute of limitations runs beginning from the date of its most recent violation, not from the beginning of the first violation. Their lawyers argued that the judge’s decision would allow for casino operators to use backdoor means to get into the market, then simply change the rules once they gained approval for a casino.

Megan Hakes, a spokeswoman for the Stockbridge-Munsee Band, said that the Band is “reviewing the just-issued order and [weighting] its options.”