On Friday, December 1, 2006, the newly refurbished Ho-Chunk Nation-managed DeJope Gaming Facility opened along the Beltline and the Interstate on Madison's east side and is expected to bring a Las Vegas style of entertainment to the area. The enormous bingo facility, once filled with rows and rows of players quietly playing with their bingo cards will be gone and instead, it will be replaced by a huge area filled with video machines, making it look like a casino.
The spokeswoman for the Ho-Chunk Tribe, Tracy Littlejohn, said that they look like slot machines, but they're really not. Billboard advertisements that have appeared on the skyline of Madison have hinted at those new changes. The remodeling comes only 2 years after Dane County Voters rejected a referendum that would allow the Ho-Chunk Indian Tribe to remodel the DeJope Bingo Center into a full-fledged casino. Tribal Gaming and the huge cash inflow that comes with it, has been a hotbed issue for the politicians in the state.
Brian Nemoir, Director of Enough! one of the groups that is opposed to this decision, said that this move permanently erases the line between bingo and casino. The Ho-Chunk remodeling also suggests that they and the Governor do not care what the Dane County voters think and that they are going ahead with their plans whether the county residents like it or not. Dane County Officials like Kathleen Falk, who supported the 2004 referendum, said that they would not be surprised if the Ho-Chunk tribe is trying to convert their bingo facility into a complete casino. A spokeswoman for Falk, Joanne Hass, said that officials from the tribe contacted their office that week, but the 2 sides have not met formally yet.
George Twigg, a spokesman for Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, said that while his boss opposed converting the DeJope Bingo Facility into a casino, the current plans still call for it to remain a bingo hall. He further added that the machines may be electronic, but they are still for bingo games. State and Tribal Officials reiterated that it is still bingo that they are promoting in their gaming facility. Tribes are only permitted to host games that belong in the Class II category.
A casino establishment which hosts games like poker, blackjack and slots are considered to be Class III gaming and the tribe must get the approval of state. The tribe is subjected to regulatory agreements. The DeJope gaming facility is considered to be a Class II gaming facility. Aside from the DeJope Gaming Facility, the Ho-Chunk nation operates casinos in Wisconsin Dells, Black River Falls and Nekoosa. The Ho-Chunk tribe also has an ancillary site, which only showcases video gaming in Tomah. Spokeswoman LittleJohn and Sean Dilweg, the spokesman for the State Department of Administration, said that what DeJope is offering is within the limits of what the law states. Sean Dilweg added that even if the machines look like slot machines, they are still bingo machines.
It is still player versus another player and not player versus machines. However, Nemoir added that the laws proposed by the National Indian Gaming Commission earlier this year would restrict the games that are being offered in DeJope. Some of those rules required the player to play another player when it came to electronic games. In bingo games, while it is allowed to play electronically and not use cards, the players cannot "auto-dab" the numbers on their electronic bingo cards. Players must also touch the screen at least once during the entire game and the electronic cards must take up at least half of the screen at all times.
Nemoir added that the games in DeJope would not even meet the standards set by the National Indian Gaming Commission. Spokeswoman LittleJohn said that there is no "Gray Area" in their machines and that they comply with the standards that are set by the Gaming Commission. She also said that Nemoir has not seen the machines in DeJope so his criticisms are not valid. Nonetheless, during a meeting with the commission, the tribe officials warned that the rules set by the commission would impede the pace of the play and create an abrupt drop in profits because players would not want to play the games. Governor of Wisconsin Jim Doyle, said that such decisions regarding Indian Gaming would be more transparent in the near future.
While the Ho-Chunk tribe has not been a major group influencing decisions in the political arena, groups that have connections with the on and off reservation tribal gaming are making some noise. Nemoir's group, Enough! has been pretty active in the past years and while the group's stance has always been described as opposed to off-reservation casinos, Nemoir refuses to divulge who the members of the group are. This led to speculation that the group is funded by tribes that are seeking to defeat competitors. In closing, Littlejohn argues that the Ho-Chunk tribe is a special case when it comes to the off-reservation gaming issue because in reality, the tribe has no reservation in Wisconsin, so their gaming facilities are technically "off-reservation".
Sunday, December 17, 2006