“It is an exciting day for the Potawatomi and Forest County,”

Tribal Chairman Harold “Gus” Frank said during a traditional ground-blessing ceremony.

Ken Walsh, a tribal spokesman, said the tribe’s planned $240 million expansion of its Milwaukee casino remains on hold because of legal challenges about the scope of gaming in Wisconsin and uncertainty about its compact with the state.

Frank said the northern Wisconsin project will provide 150 construction jobs and a payroll of $8 million for the short term while increasing tourism in the area for years.

The new Northern Lights Casino will include a new poker room and sports bar and lounge, a larger bingo hall and more space for slot machines and food services, he said. It will connect to the Potawatomi Indian Springs Lodge, next to a new 60-space recreational vehicle campground.

Walsh said the new casino will offer about 500 slot machines and 16 tables for blackjack, roulette and craps.

The current casino, built 14 years ago as a temporary pole building to house bingo, has about 425 slot machines and has outlived its use, he said. It will be torn down to make way for a parking lot.

Cheryl Waube, the casino’s general manager, said the new wood and brick facility will be bigger and will offer a better gaming and entertainment experience for the 400,000 people who visit the casino annually.

The casino now employs about 250 people, Frank said. The new facility will employ another 100 hotel and casino workers. Construction is expected to take about a year.

Walsh said the Milwaukee project remains in limbo.

Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled Gov. Jim Doyle exceeded his authority when he entered into a perpetual compact with the Potawatomi that included allowing more games, such as craps, poker and roulette, in exchange for a much higher payment to the state.

Whether the tribe makes a scheduled $44 million payment to the state by June 30 remains up in the air, Walsh said Thursday.

“There isn’t a new compact yet. We are in discussions with the state right now,” he said. “Both parties are hopeful we will have a new compact amendment by that time.”

The tribe paid the state $40.5 million a year ago in what Walsh called evidence of the tribe’s “good faith and commitment” despite the legal uncertainties.

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