Ho-Chunk Nation buys casino land

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Saturday, October 31, 2009
— The Ho-Chunk Nation thinks it has a better chance of getting approval to build a casino in Beloit than the two Chippewa tribes that have been working on the project for almost 10 years.

That’s why the Ho-Chunk on Thursday bought 26 acres of land near Interstate 90/39 from a developer for $4 million, Ho-Chunk Vice President Daniel Brown said. The Ho-Chunk intends to place the land in trust.

The Ho-Chunk announcement was a surprise to the Bad River and St. Croix Chippewa, said Joe Hunt, casino project spokesman for the tribes. But it doesn’t stop the tribes’ efforts to bring a casino to Beloit, he said.

The tribes had options to purchase the 26-acres bought by the Ho-Chunk, Hunt said. The tribes have similar options on several adjacent properties owned by the city of Beloit, he said.

In 2001, the two Chippewa tribes entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Beloit. That relationship followed a 2000 referendum in which 61 percent of Beloit voters favored a casino.

The project passed regional approval and moved to Washington in early 2007 for federal approval. At the time, the Ho-Chunk ran an advertising campaign opposing the project.

In early 2008, the federal interior department and bureau of Indian affairs announced a policy change that takes into consideration the distance between a casino and its home reservation.

Essentially, that made it harder for the two tribes, who are based in northern Wisconsin, to get their application approved. The tribes filed a lawsuit opposing the policy change. The suit was dismissed in October, but the tribes have appealed the decision.

The tribes will be in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 13 to give oral arguments, Hunt said.

The Ho-Chunk is better suited to get a casino built despite the changes to the application process, Brown said.

Specifically, Beloit is the aboriginal land of the Ho-Chunk Nation, he said.

In addition, the Ho-Chunk operates De Jope Bingo and Entertainment in Madison. That site is close enough to Beloit to be within the federal distance regulations for building off-site casinos, Brown said.

Both details are part of the federal application process, Brown said.

A Ho-Chunk-owned casino in Beloit also would fit the Ho-Chunk contract with the state of Wisconsin, Brown said.

In 1992, the Ho-Chunk signed an agreement with the state that would allow the nation to operate four casinos in the state. They currently operate three casinos in Black River Falls, Nekoosa and Wisconsin Dells, Brown said.

De Jope is not a casino. In addition to De Jope, the Ho-Chunk operates other non-casino facilities including convenience stores, Brown said. The nation of 6,900 people does not have a reservation, Brown said.

So, of course, the Ho-Chunk is in favor of off-reservation casinos, Brown said. The reason the Ho-Chunk opposed the Chippewa project in Beloit was the fact that the Ho-Chunk consider the area their aboriginal land.

“We’re very pro off-reservation gaming as long as those rules don’t have an adverse affect on tribes,” Brown said. “A couple of tribes were leap-frogging. We took issue with that. But we see it (off-reservation gaming) as something that’s very positive for tribes.”

The Ho-Chunk’s purchase of the Beloit site is a big change, and it will take time for all the parties involved to get up to speed, Brown said. City of Beloit and Rock County officials contacted Friday by the Gazette were either unaware of the change or were not ready to comment.

The Ho-Chunk plans to meet with the Chippewa tribes as well as city and county officials to talk about how to move forward, Brown said.

“The main point is folks need to understand that this will require a cooperative effort,” Brown said. “People assume we’re going to just move in. That’s not the case, although we intend to do it (work on a fee-to-trust application) much faster.”

Hunt “absolutely” agreed that cooperation would be necessary from all parties.

“The whole idea of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was to help Indians improve their economic conditions,” Hunt said. “We have a lot more in common than not because we are Indian.”

Last updated: 11:36 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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