Ho-Chunk’s Beloit Casino Plan Gets Federal Approval
A long-stalled project for the development of a tribal hotel and casino resort in the Wisconsin city of Beloit took a major leap forward on Thursday, receiving the federal green light it needed to get closer to its eventual materialization.
The scheme, promoted by the Ho-Chunk Nation, obtained approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) after years of delays.
The proposal is now headed to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ desk for a final approval. The state’s top official is set to make a two-part decision as is required when it comes to gaming fee-to-trust land acquisitions.
The plan calls for permission for 33 acres of land to be put into trust as part of a larger 73.5-acre plot owned by the Ho-Chunk Nation. The parcel of land is located near Interstate 39/90 in Beloit, across from the Beloit Travel Wisconsin Welcome Center.
The Ho-Chunk Nation’s Beloit casino project has been decades in the making, stuck in heavy bureaucracy. It finally saw major progress in the summer of 2018 when BIA announced that it would review it.
In May 2019, the federal agency published a Notice of Availability of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed casino resort. The publication of that statement was an important step before BIA issued its full decision on whether the project should move forward.
Will Gov. Evers Approve the Proposal?
It is to be seen whether Ho-Chunk’s plan will survive its final hurdle before the tribe is finally able to move onto groundbreaking.
In early 2018, when Mr. Evers was running for Wisconsin Governor, he said in an interview with the Beloit Daily News that he would sign the casino resort scheme.
However, after he was elected Governor, he backpedaled on his previous statement, saying that he would carefully review the Ho-Chunk proposal to “ensure fair consideration” for all parties.
Tribal, Beloit, and Rock County officials support the project. The scheme is projected to generate around 1,500 new jobs in Beloit.
The Casino Resort Project
The FEIS statement for the Ho-Chunk project includes four development options: a full-blown hotel and casino resort; a smaller casino and adjacent commercial development; only retail development; and no development option.
The Ho-Chunk Nation, Beloit, and Rock County officials are hopeful that the full development option would be approved.
The tribe’s Public Information Officer, Ryan Greendeer, said Thursday that they have been operating “under the assumption that we’re doing the full project […] so we start with the infrastructure and work our way to the casino and restaurants, the hotel, and conference center, water park and retail.”
Mr. Greendeer also noted that the project would be implemented in several phases.
Ho-Chunk’s scheme includes a 139,700-square-foot casino with 2,200 slot machines and 50 table games, a 300-room hotel, 175,000 square feet of retail space, a 40,000-square-foot water park, a convention center, and multiple dining outlets.
The resort, once operational, more than $225 million in economic impact for Rock County. The Ho-Chunk Nation would also pay $3 million per year to each Beloit and Rock County for hosting its resort.
Reacting to news about the long-anticipated federal approval, Ho-Chunk Nation Vice President Karena Thundercloud said in a Thursday statement that “casinos have been the bedrock of tribal economies across the nation” and that “the economy of the Ho-Chunk Nation is no different.”
Ms. Thundercloud went on that their “predecessors sought to guarantee our tribe’s economic independence” and that the process of getting their proposal to the Governor’s desk has been “long and difficult.”
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