Ho-Chunk Gaming - Wittenberg dazzles guests with elaborate grand opening

By Katrina M. Wychesit

After twenty-one months of construction, Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg hailed the opening of their major 33-million-dollar Project Forward expansion on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg was one of three Ho-Chunk Gaming establishments aboard the $153 million dollar casino expansion project.

Project Forward has contributed to establishing nearly 90 permanent employment opportunities, aiding in boosting tourism throughout Wittenberg and Shawano County and providing additional amenities and services for guests visiting on business and leisure. The first phase of Project Forward consisted of the creation of a tasteful, contemporary 86-room hotel and a non-smoking gaming room; renovations to the building exterior, an expansion of the existing gaming floor, the construction of the 3-meal River’s Edge Restaurant and a Porte Cochere. Guests will also enjoy a larger lobby and an upgrade of the existing Forest Edge Snack Bar. Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg now offers 821 of the latest and greatest machines in the industry.

Several hours prior to the Grand Opening Festivities, hundreds of guests arrived forming a line out the door and trailing down the sidewalk in pursuit of the $5,000 Mystery Bag Giveaway. As guests patiently waited in line, transformations were taking place under the new Porte Cochere for the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony taking place at 5:00pm. Black satin covers were placed on chairs with deep red sashes and a plush red carpet was rolled out which added a sophisticated and memorable touch to the commemoration.
Dignitaries from near and far were in attendance. Representation from the following Chambers of Commerce were also present: Wittenberg, Shawano Country, Wausau, Antigo/Langlade County, Fox Cities and the Greater Green Bay. The renowned Lake Delton Singers, led by Mr. Allen Cloud, initiated the ceremony with traditional Round Dance Songs as 150 Guests made their way to their seats.
Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg’s Executive Manager, Mr. Fletcher Collins greeted Guests with the Ho-Chunk language and offered his gratitude to those who brought the project to fruition and to those in attendance during his Welcome Address. “Today it is with great pleasure to be hosting this Grand Opening at the completion of Project Forward. All casino staff, Miron Construction, Contractors, Ho-Chunk Nation Executive Managers; we’ve all worked diligently since our Ground Breaking on September 21, 2016 to get to this point. For those of you that remember, we used to look like a little log cabin, now you pull in here and you see a modern casino which is great for this community and for Shawano County area as well. We are honored to have you all here as our guests. We are thankful to the Nation for investing in us and in this community.”
Ho-Chunk Nation District 3 Legislature Mr. Lawrence Walker Jr. also made his way to the podium. “I was saying prayers for what was asked of the Nation on behalf of the people. The machinery and all the efforts that were made started with our relatives here. Even though some aren’t here today, we’re still appreciative for the things that they did on behalf of the people. All of this wasn’t just for the benefit of the Ho-Chunk Nation, it was for the benefit for all of us that live in this locality. I would like to think the relationship that our relatives have built with our neighbors is what makes us unique. I’d like to continue to work with our local governments, the county, the state and the Nation. They’ve all had a hand in this coming to fruition,” stated Mr. Walker.
Wittenberg area tribal member, Mrs. Lanette Walker, spoke on behalf of Ho-Chunk Nation District 3 Legislature, Mrs. Kathy DeCamp. Mrs. DeCamp was unable to attend the Ceremony yet it was her wish to express her sentiments as she played an intricate role in two ground breaking events. “I would like to start out by saying, I am nothing, I am nobody. That’s usually how these things start out. We ended up being nothing and nobody, alone. But when you come together like this, these are the kinds of things that can happen. And for those of you that know the history of our people in the area, this is a long stretch from when we use to sell black ash baskets by the road side,” said Mrs. Walker.

Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director, Nancy Smith offered a few words on behalf of Shawano County. “I would like to congratulate you on your Grand Opening and I’d also like to thank you for making this investment in Shawano County. Visitors are going to LOVE coming to this new property, it is awesome,” stated Mrs. Nancy Smith.  Miron Construction was represented by Mr. John Murphy, Project Executive who said, “We would like to thank the Ho-Chunk Nation and Fletcher Collins.” Mr. Murphy gave props to his Project Managers and staff for another job well done.
Keynote Speaker, Mr. Jon Greendeer took Guests on a journey from start to finish placing recognition where it was due, recognizing Ho-Chunk Tribal Leaders who have fought to bring Project Forward to existence.

Mr. Greendeer said, “Back when you guys were real young, there were some rocks here, there were some trees here, and some of our people were laid to rest out here. This land has always been Ho-Chunk land, it’s always been taken care of by our residents here. Our old ones saw something better for us, they asked for something more for their people. We take a look at all of what’s around us.
Today, what you see behind you, is the accomplishment of a lot of work and a lot of people coming together. But make no mistake, that what you see here isn’t the result of the work of the people that you see around you. It’s the work of people that started this a long time ago. We could NEVER have come to this day without the work that they have done before us. And the things that we’re doing today, we probably will never see the benefit of because those are for people that aren’t even here yet. This is the Ho-Chunk way of life. This is how we survive, this is why we survive.”
Following the Ceremony, the Ho-Chunk hospitality continued as Guests were treated to a massive spread of culinary creations on behalf of The Mint of Wausau and Hula Hut of Wittenberg. The stunning three-tiered applique’ cake displayed a lit water fountain hugged in red tulle and was provided by the 2510 Restaurant of Wausau. The Grand Opening celebration then granted complimentary barrel drawings every fifteen minutes from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. prior to a fireworks display that astounded Guests and set a bold new standard in the industry.
Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg, in partnership with Fireworks Country, dazzled Guests with a magical Disney display of fireworks offering front row views to hundreds of attendees at dusk. The bold and flamboyant design ignited the Wittenberg sky with unique shapes, an array of colors and sizes throughout the 30-minute show. As the show progressed and neared the highly anticipated Grand Finale, so did the impact.
Mr. Jerry Baumke, Owner of Fireworks Country on Hwy 29 said, “After 20 Years, this is the best show we’ve ever done! I’ve been talking about doing a show for Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg for quite some time now. We’ve received numerous phone calls since the show and guests are saying that was one of the greatest shows they’ve ever seen!”
“Our Grand Opening celebration was a success. Thank you to all community members, our loyal Guests, our five supporting Chambers of commerce, contributing vendors and our staff for making this event a memorable one. We are looking forward to contributing to the growth of tourism and attraction in the Wittenberg and Shawano County areas,” said Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg’s Executive Manager, Mr. Fletcher Collins.