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Ho-Chunk details Beloit casino plan

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GINA R. HEINE
January 11, 2012
— Call it peanut butter and jelly or salt and pepper.

The leader of the Ho-Chunk Nation used both Tuesday night to describe its relationship with the city of Beloit as they move forward with plans for a casino.


"I think we have a match—a place that is looking for opportunity and a nation that has the potential to create opportunity," said Jon Greendeer, president of the Ho-Chunk Nation.


About 200 people packed the Beloit Library to hear Ho-Chunk representatives present their plans to build a casino facility on a 32-acre parcel just off of Interstate 90/39 in Beloit at a cost of $150 million to $200 million.


Beloit City Manager Larry Arft also presented the details of the draft intergovernmental agreement, which is the last big piece of the application the nation needs to move the proposed project forward.


Greendeer and former Vice President Daniel Brown described plans that include a 45,000-square-foot gaming facility with 2,200 slots and 50 table games. A 35,000-square-foot convention center and 300-room hotel also would be part of the facility they described as "modern"—unlike their other facilities that have a "more woodsy" motif, they said.


The casino complex would employ up to 2,000 people, and about 500 construction and other development jobs would be created to build the facility, Brown said.


The nation employs 3,370 employees, of which 2,070 are in the gaming field, Greendeer said. Only 15 percent of those are Ho-Chunk members. The non-Ho-Chunk workforce makes up nearly 70 percent of the nation's employees, he said.


Arft emphasized the financial impact the development could have on the city, county and region. According to the proposed intergovernmental agreement, Ho-Chunk would make quarterly payments of 2 percent of the casino's "net win" to the city. The city would pay 30 percent of its share to Rock County.


How much that could be is unknown.


Arft said the nation's leaders weren't comfortable dropping a number, but they have given city officials a range of potential revenue based on their marketing projections.


"I can tell you that it is a substantial number," Arft said. "It clearly would be a game-changer again in terms of the city's ability to budget and do capital expenditures."


The agreement also calls for a "room pilot," similar to a room tax, which would be paid to the Beloit Convention and Visitor's Bureau.


The nation would make a $2 million down payment to the city to be spent on infrastructure costs to get the casino ready to open, including adding a fourth lane on the east side of Willowbrook Road, curb and gutters, and traffic signals on city streets.


The nation has made some amendments to the previous environmental impact study, which can be used again.


The drive for the project wasn't the tribe's desire to get rich, Greendeer said.


"It came from a community that saw the prospects of an operation that has documented a great admiration for the indigenous people out here, and shown a partnership to be," he said.


Just like local governments and school districts, the nation has dealt with painful decisions to balance its budget, Brown said. The casino would provide an increase in revenue to fund the nation's needed services and programs, he said.


Ho-Chunk leaders emphasized the philanthropy they have demonstrated in other communities where they operate casinos. That pattern would continue in Beloit, where they already support local programs, they said.


Path to approval


Local, state and federal governments have oversight authority over the proposal, so approval could take two years, Arft said.


First, the city, county and nation need to approve the intergovernmental agreement. Within 30 days of those approvals, the nation would apply to the federal government for an off-reservation gaming permit. The application first would go to a regional office in Minnesota and, from there, on to Washington, D.C.


The Bureau of Indian Affairs under the previous administration rejected the previous casino project brought by the Bad River Chippewa band. Under President Barack Obama's administration, two off-reservation casinos have received approval, Arft said.


"There clearly is precedence there that the Obama administration will look at these applications fairly," he said.


If approved in Washington, Wisconsin's governor would have final authority over the application.


Nation leaders said they met in a closed-door session with Gov. Scott Walker, but they could only say they left the meeting optimistic.


Ho-Chunk has a compact with the state that allows it to build and operate a fourth gaming site, which Arft and nation leaders said should simplify the negotiations at the state level.


"The administration will review each casino on a case by case basis," Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said in an email. "We will evaluate this casino after the federal government completes its review.


"If necessary, the governor will specifically evaluate the Beloit casino proposal after the federal government completes its review."


If you go


What: Beloit City Council public hearing on the intergovernmental agreement with the Ho-Chunk Nation


When: 7 p.m. Tuesday


Where: Beloit City Hall, 100 State St., Beloit.



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