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Ho-Chunk Nation Casino decision goes to voters

MADISON, Wis. - The Dane County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 24 authorized a voter referendum on the expansion of the Ho-Chunk Nation's DeJope Bingo Hall into a Class III gaming casino in the state capitol.

The city of Madison approved the agreement the week of Nov. 17.

According to Dane County Chief of Staff Topf Wells, the county board agreed that the referendum would ask whether the nation should be able to offer casino-style gambling if a portion of the revenues are paid to the city of Madison and Dane County.

The Ho-Chunk Nation's April 2003 first compact amendment with the state requires that any expansion be put to a countywide vote before approval by Gov. Jim Doyle.

In this second amendment to the compact the Ho-Chunk Nation has agreed to pay the city and the county each more than $45 million dollars from 2004 through 2016 and $3.5 million annually thereafter for an indefinite period.

Expenditures for 2003 were budgeted at $397.1 million for Dane County and $7.5 million for the city of Madison.

The new agreement would provide each with approximately $3.7 million annually for the next 13 years. In addition, the Ho-Chunk Nation has agreed to pay for any transportation improvements and $10,000 earmarked for Madison to the state problem gambling fund. The current $93,160 municipal services annual payment will be replaced by the new payment agreement.

The amendment limits the Nation from competing with city's main two convention venues and requires it pay 8 percent of its gross hotel receipts to fund tourism promotion. Such arrangements may be altered by the outcome of any lawsuit which challenges the terms of the compact, such as that filed by state Republicans dissatisfied with the state's portion.

Wisconsin receives more gaming money than any other state except Connecticut.

The Ho-Chunk Nation has the only state compact with a no-compete clause. The Lac du Flambeau and Bad River Chippewa are each separately planning a casino, each of which is within one hour's driving time from Madison. The tribes have jointly sued U.S. Interior Secretary Gail Norton and the department for allowing the compact approval period to lapse without challenging the clause. The tribes claim negotiations with the Ho-Chunk failed to materialize.

Ed Littlejohn, Ho-Chunk tribal spokesperson, stated that there would be no comment on the lawsuit at this point in time.

The agreement also calls for a joint effort to preserve the mounds that currently exist on Madison city land. The city will stop mowing the sites, which will be covered with appropriate native plants and historically marked. They will be protected from any future municipal improvements, and in case of sale, the Ho-Chunk Nation will be given right of first refusal.

County Executive Kathleen Falk is for the casino and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is not.

"It was a personal decision in his part. He has always been opposed to gambling on a personal level and feels that he has negotiated in good faith and the agreement protects the city taxpayers. Each Madison voter should vote their own conscience," said Janet Piraino, the mayor's chief of staff.

Survivors of over 150 years of forced removal, epidemics, and broken and manufactured treaties, the Ho-Chunk of Wisconsin have bought back 2,000 acres of their original 7-million-acre homeland, mostly with casino dollars.

The Ho-Chunk Nation currently has three casinos, in Wisconsin Dells, Black River Falls and Nekoosa, and five truck stop bingo locations that are encumbered by various limitations that preclude large expansions.