- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 19, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Native American tribe in northern Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday asking a judge to block another band from expanding a competing casino, arguing the project violates both tribes’ gambling compacts with the state.

The Ho-Chunk Nation wants to add hundreds of slot machines, table games, a restaurant and a hotel to its casino in Wittenberg, and construction has begun. The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans fears the development, less than 20 miles from its North Star casino-resort, could lure away gamblers and cost the tribe $22 million per year.

The lawsuit argues the Ho-Chunk’s compact allows them to run only what’s called an ancillary facility in Wittenberg - one where less than half the revenue comes from gambling - and the expansion would violate that agreement. The suit also asserts the land wasn’t placed into trust until 1993, and federal law prohibits gambling on trust land acquired after 1988.

The lawsuit also alleges the state is violating its compact with the Stockbridge-Munsee because Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has done nothing to stop the expansion. The Stockbridge-Munsee argue their compact requires Walker to protect their interests.

The Stockbridge-Munsee filing seeks a preliminary injunction to stop construction while the lawsuit is pending. In lieu of that, the tribe asks the judge to declare that it doesn’t have to make its annual revenue-sharing payment to the state. The tribe already has warned Walker’s administration that it intends to withhold nearly $1 million in payments this year because of the dispute.

“We don’t relish having to take this step, but do so to protect our sovereign right to self-determination,” Stockbridge-Munsee President Shannon Holsey said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.

Walker’s administration insists the Ho-Chunk is acting legally. The Bureau of Indian Affairs determined the Ho-Chunk placed the land in trust in 1969, and a 2003 amendment to the Ho-Chuck’s compact allows expansion, Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel wrote to the Stockbridge-Munsee in February.

Department of Administration spokesman Steve Michels said in an email to The Associated Press that the state has been consistent in honoring gambling compacts with all tribes. He insisted that under the 2003 amendment to the Ho-Chunk agreement the tribe is authorized to offer gambling in Shawano County.

The Ho-Chunk issued a news release accusing the Stockbridge-Munsee of spreading false information for months and litigating its opposition in the media. The lawsuit will give the Ho-Chunk the chance to lay out the real facts in court. The release doesn’t elaborate.

“We are prepared to safeguard our interests,” Ho-Chunk President Wilfrid Cleveland said in the release, “and are confident we’ll be successful in court and finally be able to resolve this issue.”

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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