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Casino in works for Beloit?

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
May 14, 2010

Beloit city officials and two Native American groups soon could enter negotiations on a possible casino development in Beloit, officials said this week.


Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said the city has had no collective discussions with the Bad River and St. Croix Chippewa tribes or the Ho-Chunk Nation, two Native American groups vying to land a casino development deal in Beloit.


But it appears the city and the tribes could be drawing closer to shared negotiations, sources said.


Arft said city staff will meet with the city council in a special session Monday night to discuss a possible new agreement between the city and the tribes.


“It’s preliminary. This is strictly an intergovernmental agreement to prepare for (possible) negotiations,” Arft said.


He said talks could start in a few weeks, and the new agreement could include the city, Rock County, and “it could well involve all three tribes involved,” Arft said.


Arft said city staff is seeking direction from the council on negotiation parameters.


“We’ll probably work off the original (intergovernmental agreement) and try to upgrade it,” Arft said.


Further steps in the process, like other similar agreements, would have to be cleared at the regional and federal level, Arft said.


The two-tribe Chippewa group has been operating under an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Beloit since 2000. But hopes that group had for developing a casino in Beloit were slowed by a standing federal policy that limits how far Native American-owned casinos can be located from their owners’ home reservations.


The Chippewa tribes, which are based out of northern Wisconsin, are fighting to overturn the policy change in a federal appeals court.


Locally, the Chippewa group and the Ho-Chunk have been in talks since November 2009, after the Ho-Chunk announced it had bought from a developer a $4 million, 26-acre parcel of land near Interstate 90/39 on Beloit’s south end.


“Should we be able to reach some kind of positive negotiations with the Ho Chunk tribe, the original two-tribe (agreement) would become a three-tribe (agreement,)” said Joseph Hunt, spokesman for the Bad River and St. Croix Chippewa groups.


Once at odds over a 2007 advertising campaign the Ho-Chunk had run opposing the Chippewa group’s bid for a casino in Beloit, the Chippewa group and the Ho-Chunk have gained ground in recent talks, Hunt said.


Hunt said talks between the Chippewa group and the Ho-Chunk tribe now include “terms of a joint venture” for a possible casino development.


“It’s pretty obvious that we’re still talking about a major casino resort,” Hunt said.


Arft said he’s unaware of any movement in tribe negotiations.


“We’ve had intermittent contact with all three tribes. Really it never stopped. But I don’t believe any agreements (with the tribes) have been reached at this time.”


Hunt would not characterize the current tone of talks between the tribes, and he would not comment on whether talks revolve around land purchase or shared land use.


However, Hunt said the two groups are in agreement over one thing: A casino in Beloit could pump money and jobs into the struggling local economy.


“The tribes all recognize that 3,000 jobs are not only important to the tribes, but they’re critical to the city of Beloit,” Hunt said.



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