Residents have hopes, concerns for Beloit Casino

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012
— Beloit residents expressed a mix of support for the jobs that a proposed casino could bring to the area and concerns about gambling during a public hearing Tuesday night.

Eight residents spoke at the Beloit City Council meeting during the hearing on the draft of an intergovernmental agreement. The agreement explains the terms and conditions of the relationship between the Ho-Chunk Nation and the city of Beloit and Rock County.

The Ho-Chunk Nation is proposing to build a 145,000-square-foot gaming facility, which also would include a 300-room hotel and a 35,000-square-foot convention center just off of Interstate 90/39.

The nation would invest $150 million to $200 million in the facility, which would employ up to 2,000 people.

Here’s what residents and council members had to say:

-- Resident Steve Howland asked if the previous agreement was still in effect with the Chippewa tribes who proposed the last Beloit casino, which was rejected at the federal level.

The development agreement is still in effect with the Chippewa tribes, but the city didn’t believe it would be able to be implemented because the Ho-Chunk now owns the land in the Chippewa proposal, City Manager Larry Arft said.

“At this point in time, it does not appear possible that the Chippewa tribes could pursue the application process primarily because they’ve lost control of the site,” he said.

-- Resident Rick Brunton argued against the casino based on economics. He presented the council with a copy of a summary of six economic impact studies for proposed casinos in 2000.

“Real economic loss by an expert. Dr. William Thompson is the world’s leading authority on casino gambling,” he said. “Now you can choose where you’re going to weigh your information from. You can listen to a salesman … or you can listen to experts.”

Brunton also questioned whether the intergovernmental agreement included any guarantee of a 300-room hotel or convention center.

The current draft does not include those guarantees, Arft said, but the city is “contemplating changing the language of the preamble to include it, yes.”

It would be included in the final draft, Arft said.

Council members said they felt more comfortable moving forward knowing that language would be in the agreement.

-- Resident Don Hilbig said he opposes the casino for several reasons: it’s a “poor man’s tax,” it has “no civic virtue,” it tends to “hold out false promises” and the nation could choose other “legitimate and productive” businesses.

“I feel like a man crying, but in any case it’s jobs and money and jobs and jobs,” he said. “Well I just hope and pray that it’s not pie in the sky, and it’s not a devil’s pact. Either one of those things are not a good thing for Beloit.”

Gambling promotes quick shortcuts to getting rich, he said.

“It does not promote the ethic of hard work, save your money, and those are the answers in life,” he said.

He also said he didn’t want Beloit’s image and reputation to be that of gambling, rather that of educating and learning with Beloit College as the flagship.

-- Resident Louie Pody offered support of the project on behalf of the Southern Wisconsin building and construction trades council. He encouraged the nation and city to use local workers and contractors.

“We can work with the Ho-Chunk to provide jobs to our unemployed and underemployed members who live in Beloit and Rock County,” he said. “These are jobs for tax-paying citizens who have an interest in this community.”

The employment outlook for construction is worse than any other sector, he said, and the prospect of the casino gives local workers and their families hope for the future.

-- Resident Mike Zoril said he believes a majority of Beloit residents support the proposal, but he suggested the city hold another referendum. If it passes again, the project would have legitimacy moving forward, he said.

He also had concerns about the formula for the city’s share of the casino’s profits, which are dependent on the amount of profits.

“My concern is over time, what happens if the cost of running the city of Beloit increases faster than gambling profits do?” he said.

Council member Charles Haynes said he thought another referendum would be expensive and wouldn’t be “revealing or effective.”

-- Resident Judy Robson voiced support for the project and its potential positive economic effect.

The former state senator expressed concerns about the semi-skilled jobs within the casino—such as people dealing cards, running the tables or working security. She said she wants to see some kind of local job training in those areas so the jobs could be filled locally.

She said she also wanted to make sure construction jobs pay prevailing wages or are union jobs.

Last updated: 7:17 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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