Representatives urging action on Beloit casino

Staff writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Get a move on with the Ho-Chunk Nation Beloit casino plan. That’s the message from a group of Wisconsin congressional representatives to President Donald Trump’s administration.

The group sent a letter to the president’s interior secretary urging action. The application for the casino plan is currently with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Legislators are urging Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and BIA to move forward on the plan.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ron Kind (D-WI) and Gwen Moore (D-WI) appealed for quicker action on the plan.

“We write today to urge full, fair and prompt consideration of the Ho-Chunk

Nation’s application to acquire land for gaming purposes in Beloit, Wisconsin. The Beloit community and the Ho-Chunk Nation have eagerly awaited progress for years at the federal level on the casino plan,” the members of Congress wrote. “This proposed gaming facility will provide significant economic benefits for the City of Beloit and Rock County, the State of Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation. The project will support additional business development and infrastructure improvements in the region. It will allow the tribe to expand educational, housing and health care services for its members.”

The next step is for BIA to release the draft of the environmental impact statement to the public, followed by a public hearing on the project.

In August, Ho-Chunk tasked a member of its leadership team with working as a community liaison between the tribe and the city as the ongoing application process continues. The tribe secured workspace at the Irontek facility in downtown Beloit and has joined the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce.

The BIA is expected to rule on the application within two years, and interests involved think the Beloit plan will get favorable BIA review due to strong support in the city and public need due to Beloit’s high unemployment and poverty rates. The casino plan could create 2,000 jobs, according to a marketing pamphlet on the project distributed by the Ho-Chunk.

The trust and gaming applications are expected to be completed by 2018, followed by design and permitting in 2019. Construction on the 38-acre site near Willowbrook and Colley roads adjacent to Interstate 39/90 could start in 2020, with an opening date set for Spring 2021, according to project details.

The gaming and 300-room hotel complex will include a convention center and five shops and restaurants, project documents show. With a projected 2,000 prospective casino and hotel employees, the casino could become the city’s largest employer. Ho-Chunk estimates 65 percent of all employees will be Rock County residents, with over 1,200 residents putting back around $54 million in new income into the local economy. The future economic investment would reflect as $1.45 million in Wisconsin income tax revenue.

The casino proposal has a long history in Beloit. The original proposal — submitted by the Bad River and St. Croix Chippewa bands — dates back into the 1990s. The Bad River and St. Croix plan lingered and never came to fruition, eventually being superseded by the Ho-Chunk designs for the property.