Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe Withholds Large Sum Over State Dispute

Shannon Holsey, leader of the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, notified authorities Monday that her northern tribe was withholding nearly $1 million in casino payments to the state due to a plan that would see another tribe’s gambling operation expanding, and potentially hurting business.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Indian tribe of Madison, Wisconsin fears a plan that would expand the Ho-Chunk Nation’s existing casino could deal a significant financial blow to their own operation. The North Star Mohican Casino and Resort in Bowler and the Ho-Chunk Nation’s casino in Wittenberg are separated by a mere 17 miles. In September, the Ho-Chunk casino began planning a $33 million project, which would add a hotel and 250 slot machines and table games. The Wittenberg casino was originally constructed in 2008 to provide financial support to the Ho-Chunk.

How the Expansion Could Damage Stockbridge

A recent study funded by the Stockbridge concluded that the tribe could stand to lose more than $22 million a year if the plan to expand the Ho-Chunk facility plans were completed. Much like the Ho-Chunk, the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe use the casino as a primary source of revenue for their tribe. Holsey promised to pursue “all legal remedies available” in an attempt to protect the 1,200 tribe members who work as employees or rely on the support the casino provides.

Holsey provided Governor Scott Walker with written notification of the tribe’s intent to withhold the $923,000 which is due June 30th. The decision to withhold the casino payments could result in the dispute heading to state or federal court for resolution. The Stockbridge tribe argues that an upgrade of this caliber should not be allowed for what was deemed a secondary casino. Dennis Puzz, Stockbridge-Munsee attorney, also said that the Ho-Chunk are operating the casino on land not eligible to be used for gambling under federal law.

The Details of Tribes’ Deal with the State

Wisconsin requires tribes to pay a share of their casino profits each year as part of a deal that ensures the state of Wisconsin won’t allow other types of gambling. Stockbridge hopes that by withholding this payment the state will deny the Ho-Chunk the planned expansion, but if no action is taken in the next 30 days Puzz plans to take the issue to arbitration or a federal judge.

Steven Michels, a spokesman for the state Division of Gaming, explained that both Stockbridge and Ho-Chunk are getting the deals they agreed to. The state has reviewed the issue and has concluded that Ho-chunk is allowed to expand its casino in Wittenberg. Collin Price, a representative for Ho-Chunk, said they will not apologize for trying to improve their facility. Futhermore, Price says the plans are in keeping with federal law and the tribe’s agreement with the state. He went on to explain that the competition between Ho-Chunk and Stockbridge is no different from other businesses.

The Ho-Chunk has four major gambling facilities in the state of Wisconsin and the Stockbridge is a comparatively small player in the state’s casino operations. To help bolster their defenses they have brought on the experience of two veteran attorneys in Bryan Newland and Scott Crowell. Newland served on President Barack Obama’s transition team and served as a top aide in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Crowell is renowned for winning federal court decisions which found California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had negotiated in bad faith with a tribe over a deal that courts considered an illegal tax.