Beloit casino supporters optimistic despite uphill climb in Kenosha

Gina Duwe
Tuesday, August 27, 2013

BELOIT--Despite Gov. Scott Walker's “highly unrealistic” criteria to grant approval for a Kenosha casino, Ho-Chunk leaders say they are in a more favorable position for their Beloit casino because of previous negotiations with the state.

The Ho-Chunk Nation's application for a Beloit casino would need Walker's OK if it gains federal approval, and the application is being processed at the regional office of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, Ho-Chunk spokesman Collin Price said.

The U.S. Department of Interior last week approved the Menominee Nation's application for an off-reservation Kenosha casino, which now needs Walker's approval. He has said his criteria for approval includes no new net gaming, community support and consensus among the state's tribes.

“That's unrealistic,” Price said. “Highly unrealistic for the tribes to come to a consensus in developing a casino that's going to benefit the one tribe.”

Price said the Ho-Chunk would not support the Kenosha project, which is in Ho-Chunk territory, because the nation “does not and will not support any off-reservation gaming in Ho-Chunk territory.”

“It's a pretty hard-line rule,” he said.

While Kenosha's federal approval is a good sign for Beloit, Price said the two aren't in the same position.

“We're different from all other tribes” on off-reservation casinos because the Ho-Chunk already negotiated terms with the state, which allow the nation to build and operate a fourth gaming site, he said.

Walker still would need to approve the Ho-Chunk project and negotiate in good faith, Price said, but “I believe the terms of the compact will be favorable to the development of the Beloit casino.”

“We haven't had any talks with the governor,” he said. “I think he was pretty clear … when he said he'll address it when it gets to his desk. We respect that.”

Beloit City Manager Larry Arft agreed the nation is in a good position.

“There's no question that the Ho-Chunk have a contract with very firm language in it about approval of this fourth Class 3 gaming site,” he said. “That clearly … distinguishes them from any other tribal group that's trying to establish a new casino.”

In seeking federal approval, Arft said he believes the Beloit application is even stronger on its merits than Kenosha's. 

“The Ho-Chunk Nation is much closer to this site,” he said. “This clearly was part of their ancestral land with huge heritage ties to this area.”

The site also is within what federal officials refer to as a “commutable distance”--about 50 miles--from where nation members reside, he said. The site also has no negative environmental issues to deal with because a previous application for the same site received a regional recommendation from the BIA, he said.

“I think all of those things make their application maybe a little stronger on the merits,” he said.

Arft said he was not worried about direct competition from a Kenosha casino, but it would add more competition to the general marketplace. Price said he didn't have any data to point to but believed the casino would have an impact on Beloit.