Wisconsin Tribes are Clashing Over Casino Expansion Fight

Betty Putnam-Schiel is 85 and has trouble standing, However, she still manages to get along well enough around her home in Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans' northern Wisconsin reservation, this is possible due to the help from tribal assistants who do chores like shovelling snow to changing her light-bulbs.

The future of this care assistance may not be available in the future if the fight between two tribe is not settled. The Ho-Chunk Nation, is expanding their nearby casino turning it into a fully-fledged resort that’s likely to rival the Stockbridge-Munsee's own casino. This will threaten the gambling revenues that supports the services that help people who are in a similar situation such as Betty Putnam-Schiel's helpers.

The Ho-Chunk tribe says that they are trying to provide for their people. The more progressively bitter quarrel has illustrated how the tribes all over the country clash as they battle for revenue from gambling in a market that is ever-tightening.

Ms. Putnam-Schiel said it was "unfair," that the Ho-Chunk expansion going ahead, she said that she counts on the help received from the casino money, and further commented that It's survival for a lot of us. According to records of the National Indian Gambling Commission, there are 240 tribes offering gambling in 28 states. With the casinos being restricted to reservations and the land held in the federal trust, the tribes are left to beef up their facilities for growing revenue as they are unable to expand into new territories. This means more of the tribes have found themselves placed in direct competition with neighboring tribes.

There have been Inter-tribal disputes over casinos in Connecticut, California and Michigan over the past five years. Two years ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker denied the Menominee Nation permission to building a second casino on trust land in Kenosha when the Potawatomi and the Ho-Chunk tribes complained about competition, and now the Stockbridge-Munsee are complaining.

The 7,000-member Ho-Chunk Nation do not have a true reservation. The federal government moved this tribe from Wisconsin to Nebraska during the 1830s; members that returned to Wisconsin during the 1870s received or had purchased homesteads.

The tribe has established six casinos on the trust land around Wisconsin, this includes the Wisconsin Dells, which is the state's tourism center. They have also established a number of office supply distribution centers, a RV park, gas stations, and a theater.

The Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, by comparison, have approximately 1,400 members. Almost a third live on swampy grounds, this is a rural reservation in Shawano County, approx. 50 miles east of the Green Bay. This is a hard-scrabble existence; 21% of American Indians in the county live below the poverty line during 2015, if one takes a drive through the reservation it shows aging, isolated homes that are linked by lonely two-lane roads.

This tribe has a banquet hall, a golf course, a RV park and a gas station, however, they depend mostly on revenue coming from their North Star casino. Much of the money funds tribal health care, elder centers, the elder chore assistants and the reservation's police and fire departments. The revenue has also has paid for body cameras for the county sheriff deputies, a police liaison officer and for tutors in the Shawano County schools plus workers who help with road repairs, the tribal President Shannon Holsey said.

The Stockbridge-Munsee tribe has always struggled with their location. The reservation is approximately 10 miles from the U.S. Highway 29, which is the main thoroughfare crossing the state. Gamblers wishing to gamble have to travel along winding two-lane roads through a bog in order to reach the North Star Casino.

The Ho-Chunk tribe have a distinct advantage as they run a casino just off Highway 29 which is about 17 miles west of the North Star. Over the last year, the tribe started working to add hundreds more slot machines, a hotel and restaurant to their site.

The Stockbridge-Munsee tribe estimates that the expansion lose them $22 million in lost gambling revenue because players choose the Ho-Chunk facility over the North Star.

The band leaders say that it could lead to job cuts as well as severely curtail tribal services.

The Stockbridge-Munsee tribe filed a federal lawsuit last week they allege that the expansion has violated the Ho-Chunk tribe's gambling compact with the state, their argument is that the compact doesn't allow for an extensive expansion. They also contend that Walker has breached the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe’s own compact, which calls on the state to protect the tribe from competition. They also dispute that the Ho-Chunk tribal land was properly taken into trust allowing gambling in the first place.

Holsey says that they are not just going to roll over, that this is their home.

The Walker administration officials wrote to Stockbridge in January stating that they were satisfied that the Ho-Chunk expansion was legal, they cited a 2003 amendment to Ho-Chunk’s compact as well as an earlier Bureau of Indian Affairs determination on this trust issue.

The Ho-Chunk leaders responded to Stockbridge lawsuit they called their arguments frivolous, weak and trivial.

Collin Price spokesperson for Ho-Chuck said that the only issue here is dealing with competition.