BLACK RIVER FALLS — The Ho-Chunk Nation will begin $153 million in expansions and renovations at three casino locations, including Black River Falls, next month.
Ho-Chunk Gaming in Black River Falls, Wisconsin Dells and Wittenberg will undergo major upgrades as part of the Nation’s Ho-Chunk Forward initiative to grow the area’s workforce and generate more revenue to support the tribe’s programs and services.
“The expansion projects are extremely important because it allows us to elevate the offerings that we have at each casino. The gaming industry is very competitive, the industry is constantly changing., and we just have to adapt to the changing industry and continue to offer something that is a little bit more than our competitors,” said Collin Price, the Ho-Chunk Nation’s public relations officer.
“The casino revenue is the backbone of our government and the services we provide to our people. We want to ensure that that continues and we’re able to offer the things that we do for the tribal members and the community. I think it’s pretty plain to see the Ho-Chunk Gaming impact in all the communities is beyond the employees in terms of impact to the community.”
The Nation’s legislature in 2014 approved a variety of projects and expansions, and administration gave the final go-ahead earlier this month.
The Ho-Chunk Nation originally had included some projects at Nekoosa in the plans, but officials opted to start with three locations after receiving feedback from tribal members, customers and managers. Projects at other locations could come in the future, Price said.
“It started out as a really big project. We had really high expectations and wanted to work on as many sites as possible, but after working some of the numbers, it was decided that these three casinos would be the first ones,” he said. “The other casinos will still be receiving expansions and renovations once this is completed.”
The Black River Falls location will get a new 120-room hotel, a new entry, an expanded and redesigned casino floor with an additional 200 slots, high-limit gaming, a remodeled buffet with 36 additional seats and a new parking lot.
Wisconsin Dells, Ho-Chunk Gaming’s largest site, will get a new hotel main entrance and lobby, a new hotel bar and a new poker room, a new off-track betting area, a redesigned casino floor layout, an expanded non-smoking casino area, and renovations to the bingo area and buffet.
Wittenberg is slated to receive a new 84-seat restaurant and bar, a new 86-room hotel, 272 more slots, new high-limit and non-smoking casino areas and 10 table games.
An estimated 100 new jobs will be created. The Ho-Chunk Nation now employs 3,400 people.
“We are extremely excited to grow and offer new amenities that will only enhance one of the best entertainment experiences in the region,” Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland said in a statement.
The Ho-Chunk Nation has been considering substantial casino expansions for years, but this plan got a jumpstart, in part, because of the potential job creation. The tribe in early 2015 launched a new website and related social media page, called Ho-Chunk Forward, to keep tribal members and the public informed about the initiative’s progress and to field questions and suggestions.
“Everyone is really positive about it,” said Rob Reider, senior marketing manager for the Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Business. “We’re looking forward to not only expanding some of the amenities but also giving them a much-needed face-lift.
The projects could take up to 18 months to complete, but officials hope they can conclude sooner. The facilities will maintain their regular hours and offerings during the work and there should be few effects on guests, although people should allow for some changes to parking availability while the new lot is being constructed, Reider said.
“Other than that, we’re going to make it exciting for (guests), so they can see the process as it happens,” he said. “The sooner we can get it done, the better.”