Ho-Chunk fail to pay state, could owe as much as $70 million 7-07

MILWAUKEE (AP) - The Ho-Chunk Nation owes the state more than $70
million after it failed to make a casino operations payment in the
fiscal year that ended Saturday, the state said.

The tribe said it doesn't owe anything close to that amount because a
2004 state Supreme Court ruling greatly reduced the value of its
casino deal with the state.

The dispute has cost taxpayers $837,355 in lawyers' fees so far.

"Taxpayers are definitely getting ripped off by the tribe on this,"
said Assistant Assembly Majority Leader Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin.
"That money is owed to the taxpayers. It should have been paid long
ago. They should at this point pay it back in full with interest."

The Ho-Chunk and other tribes signed a deal with Gov. Jim Doyle in
2003 that allowed them to offer new games in return for increased
annual payments to the state. The Ho-Chunk's new payments were
supposed to be four times as much as they had paid previously - or
$30 million per year in the first two years and then 6 percent to 8
percent of their gross revenue after that.

But the Supreme Court ruled in a 2004 case involving the Potawatomi
tribe that Doyle exceeded his authority by signing an agreement that
was perpetual, waived the state's immunity from lawsuits and allowed
new games. In 2006, the court partially reversed itself and said
Doyle could approve new games.

The Ho-Chunk stopped offering the new games and held off on payments
to the state after the 2004 ruling, saying they were waiting for a
new deal to be signed. The tribe runs casinos in the Wisconsin Dells,
Nekoosa and Black River Falls.

The state says the tribe owes $70 million for running its casinos
during the past three years. It sued in 2005 to have an arbitrator
settle the matter. That case is still pending.

Most of the state's 11 tribes have made their annual casino payments,
Department of Administration spokeswoman Linda Barth said. The
Potawatomi tribe, which runs the largest grossing casino in
Wisconsin, said it paid the state $29.4 million on Monday.

The Ho-Chunks' failure to pay will not hurt the state's budget
because it started the fiscal year with an $80 million balance,
budget director David Schmiedicke said.
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