Casino Fight Tribes (copy)

Signs guide gamblers through construction at the Ho-Chunk Nation's casino in Wittenberg. The Ho-Chunk is adding a hotel and restaurant to the site, stoking fears from rival tribe Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans that the expanded facility will hurt business at that tribe's casino 17 miles away. 

AP archive photo

Calling it “outrageous,” the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans said Thursday that it will appeal a federal judge’s decision issued Wednesday that said the tribe was too late in filing its lawsuit to block a northern Wisconsin casino expansion by the Ho-Chunk Nation.

In a statement, Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal Council, said the tribe acted promptly when it learned in 2016 that the Ho-Chunk were “shifting from simply pushing the limits of their purported ancillary facility to completely violating their state compact to build a $41 million full-blown casino resort.”

U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote in his decision that the Stockbridge-Munsee should have filed its lawsuit before 2014, the end of a six-year statute of limitations that began after the Ho-Chunk opened a casino at Wittenberg, about 20 miles west of the Stockbridge-Munsee’s North Star Casino Resort, in 2008.

Peterson’s decision dismissed the Ho-Chunk from the lawsuit.

“Our lawsuit merits and timing are just,” Holsey said, “and fully permitted under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. We intend to vigorously continue pursuing the avenues for justice that are afforded to us.”

The Stockbridge-Munsee said that Peterson’s ruling misapplies a six-year statute of limitations to the IGRA, which contains no statute of limitations for enforcement action of gaming compacts by a state or a tribe.

“If left unchallenged,” the tribe said in its statement, “this order could limit that state’s ability to enforce compacts and possibly the National Indian Gaming Commission’s ability as well.”

The Ho-Chunk Nation’s expansion will bring hundreds more slot machines to its Wittenberg casino, along with gaming tables, a restaurant, bar and hotel. Wittenberg, in Shawano County, is about 30 miles from Wausau. The Stockbridge-Munsee said it is a huge expansion from the Ho-Chunk’s ancillary facility, which it called a “mini-mart” gaming facility.

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“In this ruling, the judge has essentially said that it is perfectly fine to violate your gaming compact so long as you fly under the radar for six years,” Holsey said. “After that point, you can do whatever you want, even if it’s in blatant violation of the law. This is outrageous and should concern every single tribal nation.”

The Stockbridge-Munsee have also threatened to withhold nearly $1 million in payments to the state over the issue, and sued the state of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker as part of its lawsuit against the Ho-Chunk.

Peterson wrote that he will allow the state to decide whether it will also pursue the timeliness issue as the Ho-Chunk did.

The Stockbridge-Munsee, in its statement, asked the state not to do that, “and instead see through its commitment to allow this dispute to be determined on the merits of the case, not on ill-applied procedural standards.”

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