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Wisconsin land purchased to build future casino

LAC DU FLAMBEAU, Wis. - The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Anishinaabe) has purchased a 92.7-acre tract of land for $320,000 in the city of Shullsburg, Wis. Should the tribe conclude its compact negotiations with the State of Wisconsin by July, the land will be presented to the BIA for approval for the construction of a Class III casino, convention center and hotel. Both the tribe and city of Shullsburg view the purchase as an initial step toward a long-term partnership.

Twenty acres of the tract will be trust land, on which the actual gaming facilities will be located, and the remaining 77.7 acres will be subject to taxation, state and local laws and regulations. The 75,000 square foot gaming facility will contain 2,150 slot machine, and 60 game tables. The surrounding facilities will include a 300-room hotel, theater complex, shopping center, showroom, convention center and recreation area.

The tribe already owns and operates its successful Lake of the Torches Casino, on their reservation in northeast Wisconsin. The casino is located in the highland Lake District, and because of the high number of tourists and visitors, is seeking to expand off reservation. If constructed, the tribe will also operate the new complex, without the help of any outside management entities.

The tribe is focusing on Shullsburg as the site for the off-reservation project, located in Lafayette County in southwest Wisconsin, because of several factors. "The construction of the complex would meet legislative criteria concerning the new Indian gaming law," said Lake of the Torches CEO Bill Guelcher. "It will provide the basis for a thriving tourism economy in the Shullsburg area."

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There are scenic attractions and tourism opportunities in the region that, with the aid of the casino, could provide the biggest economic boost to the area since the 1800s when it was a thriving mining center. The economic infrastructure shifted toward agriculture when that boom ended. The new complex will be located near the Illinois and Iowa border, and would be beneficial to the region and the state because of frequent patronage from out-of-state residents.

The tribe signed a contract with Lafayette County in September of 2000. The county and city must now reach an agreement with the tribe containing specific wording, phases, and dates of future construction activities. The tribe would contribute $4 million per year, for 20 years, in exchange for basic municipal services including police and emergency medical services, road maintenance, etc.

The tribe has not, however, signed a contract with the city of Shullsburg addressing the same issues. The tribe will not waive its sovereign immunity. The three-way agreement may solve the dilemma by allowing the tribe to retain sovereign immunity in exchange for the city restricting its services. The residents of Shullsburg have overwhelmingly supported the project, voting 540 - 79 in favor in a referendum held last year. Shullsburg mayor Dan Morrissey has gone to the extent of issuing a David Letterman-style "Top 10 Reasons for Lac du Flambeau to Reside in Shullsburg" list to the tribe.

Lac du Flambeau is the only tribe in Wisconsin without a gaming compact. Negotiations with Gov. Jim Doyle are under way with a deadline of July 2003.

The tribe faces another obstacle. Carl Edwards, a highly respected representative for the Lac du Flambeau tribe and Lake of the Torches Casino, said, "The Ho-Chunk compact may contain language that might restrict other tribes from opening casinos in this region. But we have taken that compact to court." The case is currently in the preliminary motion stages."