Wittenberg casino double floor space with expansion opening

By Ken Luchterhand

Outside the Ho-Chunk Gaming – Wittenberg casino, it was cold, barren, and snowing, but inside it was warm, dry, and full of people.
The ribbon cutting and opening of the newly-expanded gaming floor on Wednesday, Nov. 1, brought people from far and wide, all eager to take part of an exciting venture that was many months in the making.
Groundbreaking for the expansion took place Sept. 21, 2016.
Elite elder Dolli BigJohn performed the honorary designation of being center of the cutting of the ribbon. LeAnthony Pecore was the master-of-ceremonies.
“Today, it is our great pleasure to open up the expanded gaming floor,” HCG-Wittenberg Executive Manager Fletcher Collins said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “All casino staff, construction, contractors, and Ho-Chunk executive management staff, have worked diligently since our groundbreaking to get to this day. It has been a lot of long hours, stressful situations, frustrations and personal victories have been made. We all work together hard as a team.”
The new gaming floor doubles the previous square feet, which was 1,000 square feet and is now about 2,000 square feet, Collins said. In addition, the added gaming floor increases employees by 80 positions.
“The Ho-Chunk Nation has invested in this property and is excited to bring new restaurant operations, a hotel, and a wider variety of games that will add to the growth and attraction of the village of Wittenberg and Shawano County area,” he said. The hotel is slated to be finished early next year.
“I want to thank my management team specifically for all the hard work, time, blood, sweat and tears that they put in to get to this day, up to the very hour when they opened up the doors,” Collins said. “This is only the beginning. As you can see, we still have a lot of work to do, but we’re ready to roll, ready for you, ready to bring this exciting experience to Ho-Chunk Gaming – Wittenberg.”
Ho-Chunk Area 3 Legislator Larry Walker Jr. told about the journey to achieve the celebrated milestone.
“It’s been an interesting ride here in the Wittenberg area, starting in August 2007, with the concept of the casino. By November 2007, we actually approved funding for Ho-Chunk Gaming – Wittenberg, and by November 2008, we opened the doors to all of you,” Walker said.
“Since that time, we’ve had the opportunity of formulating a team to make the best possible gaming establishment that we could. I want to say thank you to our department of business, and Mr. Collins and his staff, for all the efforts that they’ve made in regards to the advancement of HCG-Wittenberg,” he said.
“Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to expand and that was always the plan for this gaming establishment. (The casino) was made to be able to expand. To see that today, that we’re able to look around and see all the different changes and the improvements that we’ve made to the gaming establishment is really good to see,” Walker said.
He said that the casino was created to help advance and to assist Ho-Chunk people.
“Through the prayers that were made on behalf of our elders and those that came after them that this gaming establishment is now a success. That’s not only due in part to the people that we employ, but also to those who come through the door and spend their time here with us,” Walker said.
HCN Department of Business Executive Director Robert Mudd thanked HCN President Wilfrid Cleveland, the staff, construction workers and customers for the achievement of completing the casino addition.
“We’ve got a development going in Black River Falls at Majestic Pines Casino, we have a remodeling going on in Wisconsin Dells, Ho-Chunk Casino, I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made since September. When I was here a couple days ago, it still needed a little work. But it looks great today. Fletcher and his staff, Marketing, Finance, have done an excellent job and I’m very pleased at their progress,” Mudd said.
He also thanked Miron Construction and Hill International, the two construction firms that completed the project.
Area 3 Legislator Kathy DeCamp took the opportunity to give credit to Angelo LaMere, a past leader in the Wittenberg area.
“This ceremony would not have been possible without Angelo J. LaMere, the first representative for the Wittenberg area under the 1963 Wisconsin Winnebago Business Committee,” DeCamp said.
“Angelo was a Navy veteran and a respected and distinguished leader for this area. He is deceased, but his dream lives on. He had a dream for his people that included better education, housing, health, and getting more land for our benefit. He worked tirelessly on the efforts to enroll our tribal members in order to have a constitution under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Through this act, he had hoped to gain back Ho-Chunk lands and was involved in the Ho-Chunk land claims against the United States government,” she said.
Ho-Chunk people occupied lands in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota, she said. The land is sacred because, through it, the Creator provided all needs: food, clothing, lodging, and the means for the culture to survive, DeCamp said.
“He wanted to promote cultural heritage to the regeneration of arts and crafts of the area through the creation of the Pac Ci Nak Gift Shop – the building located to the immediate north of this casino. He sought funding to make this happen and eventually the Pac Ci Nak building was built. There was a gift shop in the beginning and later it became a location for all the services that the tribe provided, such as health, education, youth services, tribal aging unit and Native American Church services.
 she said.
He advocated for the Native American Church, locally and nationally, and was a devoted member and supporter all his life. He eventually wanted to see a Native American Church built where the current building is located.
“He compassionately cared for his family and all his relatives who were all part of this community. He wanted our people to be self-sufficient, better educated, have employment and to prosper and be happy in accordance with his strong spiritual beliefs. He was involved in organizing and participating in encouraging high school students to seek a higher education after high school and was with colleges and universities in the state of Wisconsin,” DeCamp said.
He was a strong advocate for the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 that would keep Ho-Chunk children within the tribe and not lost to foster care or adoption outside the tribe, she said.
Angelo guided the Great Lakes Intertribal Council through its organization and he worked with leaders like Dolli BigJohn and Josie WhiteEagle and with other tribal leaders to form a consortium to get support from federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, Department of Labor, Education, and many states and local governments, she said.  
“His involvement with the national Office of economic opportunity in the 1970s brought some businesses to this community, which included the gift shop and a pallet factory. The Great Lakes Intertribal Headstart headquarters was located in Wittenberg and later moved to Bowler, Wisconsin. Today our Headstart program is not part of the Great Lakes Intertribal Council, but it the Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Education,” DeCamp said.
The Ho-Chunk Nation Executive Branch provides for administration, justice, business, finance, education, health, heritage preservation, personnel, natural resources, labor, housing services, independent of Great Lakes Intertribal Council, DeCamp said.
“And you always wondered where our revenue goes. That’s where it goes,” she said.
“Angelo’s belief in God was summed up by the late John Stacy: ‘One of the things about him was his belief in God – that it was like being inside a sphere with many windows. The view was different from each window, but it was the same Creator who made it all,’” DeCamp said.
“Today, we stand on this land due to his efforts and live part of his dreams and look through that sphere with many windows that will benefit tribal and nontribal people by bringing more business and economic opportunities to this Wittenberg / Shawano County community and the rest of the Ho-Chunk Nation,” she said.
Miron Construction Executive John Murphy and Ho-Chunk Gaming – Wittenberg Director of Slot Operations also thanked the many people involved in the project. Brunette told about all the gaming additions that have been achieved and those that are still in the planning stages.
Collins said the project has been one of inclusion.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is, through PR (public relations), through proper management channels, is to keep everyone informed. From my positon on down, we’re trying to keep the employees informed of where we’re at, where we’re going, how the progress is going,” Collins said.
“We’ve been bringing employees though, we’ve been bringing community members, tribal elected officials, and elders though. This is their property in the end and we wanted them to see every phase of it as we’ve gone along here. At the end we tapered off a bit because then it got down to the finishing touches and we were getting in the way of the workers too much. But just awareness, communication channels, and keeping everyone informed of everything that was going on was our efforts,” Collins said.
In the Wittenberg area, the casino is one of two major employers in the region. The other is Nueske's, a meat processing company.
“I think we’ve gotten a really good community reaction, just by the folks that are here tonight, tribal elders, I see people from other areas who are here,” Pecore said. “The outpouring - before it even started, people were lined up, snaking around – it can’t be anything but positive.”
The hotel will be the next project completion, which is planned to be completed sometime at the middle or end of January 2018.
 “We’re slated for 86 rooms in the new hotel and we’re already getting requests for reservations,” Pecore said. “So we’re diligently working to get that system going to we can start taking reservations,” Collins said.
“Even with this timeline, there’s a little ‘give room’ and we want to make sure everything is done right. If we had raced everything, it wouldn’t have been proper. So, we’re trying to take our time and getting our staffing in place,” he said.