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Beloit to vote on casino pact

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GINA R. HEINE
March 3, 2012
— Beloit and Rock County stand to gain millions of dollars annually through an agreement on the verge of approval for a new casino in Beloit.

The Beloit City Council will vote Monday night on an intergovernmental agreement that lays out terms for a Ho-Chunk Nation casino.


Approval of the document from the city, Rock County and Ho-Chunk Nation is the last step before the casino application can be submitted to the federal government for approval.


The nation is proposing 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.


Financial estimates

Beloit and Rock County could receive millions of dollars through annual net win payments. According to the agreement, the city would receive 2 percent of net wins with no offsets for state payments or operations of the casino. Rock County would receive 30 percent of the 2 percent.


No one knows how the percentages would translate into dollars, but Beloit City Manager Larry Arft gave an estimate of $5 million to $7 million for the city annually, saying that is “a little bit conservative” and “it’s hard to pin down a specific number.”


Of that, the county would receive 30 percent, or $1.5 million to $2.1 million. The payments replace property taxes.


Ho-Chunk Nation President Jon Greendeer reacted to Arft’s estimate: “I hope Larry is miserably low-balling that.”


Greendeer said Arft has every interest in citing a number close to accurate, but he said nobody was comfortable placing a number on the payments.


The gaming industry is dynamic, and projections don’t ride along with the economy as people might think, he said. The net win payment is a straight percentage, he said, but the city would see other benefits that generate revenue, such as higher property values and business development.


Greendeer said he hopes Arft’s estimate is right, “and hopefully low so the city does see more of a benefit.”


The agreement also calls for a payment in lieu of a room tax, which would be paid to the Beloit Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Arft said there was no way to calculate how much that would bring in.


Officials first revealed a draft of the intergovernmental agreement at a Jan. 10 meeting at the Beloit Public Library. Since then, input from elected officials and residents resulted in some changes but no “major substantive” changes, Arft said.


The first public draft did not include a guarantee that a 300-room hotel or convention center would accompany the casino. The draft now states the casino would include “a full-service hotel with conference and meeting facilities, restaurants and related support facilities.”


Language in the intergovernmental agreement was tightened and references to Rock County health codes were added, Arft said.


The development would be Ho-Chunk’s first off-reservation casino; all of its other casinos are under a state compact on land the tribe already owned, Arft said.


The city worked with a Washington lawyer who has a long history of dealing with tribes and gaming issues, he said.


Seeking approval


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


Within 30 days of the intergovernmental agreement 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 then to Washington, D.C. If approved in Washington, Wisconsin’s governor would have final authority over the application.


Ho-Chunk has a compact with the state that allows it to build and operate a fourth gaming site, which officials have said should simplify negotiations at the state level. An amendment to the compact, however, states one Class 3 gaming facility is authorized in each of the following counties: Jackson, Sauk, Wood and Dane.


Greendeer said it would take another amendment to add Rock County to the list.


“We’re going to have to sit down with the governor and negotiate some of the terms,” he said. “It isn’t a matter of a fourth site, it’s just a matter of whether Rock County is a site. … That shouldn’t be a hurdle.”


The nation has not yet had talks with the state on the matter, Greendeer said.


WHAT’S NEXT?

The Beloit City Council will vote on the intergovernmental agreement for a casino at its 7 p.m. Monday meeting at City Hall Forum, 100 State St., Beloit.


The Rock County Board and Ho-Chunk legislators also have to approve the intergovernmental agreement. The county board staff committee will consider the agreement at its 4 p.m. meeting Tuesday. The item is on the agenda for the Rock County Board’s 6 p.m. meeting Thursday. Both meetings are at the Rock County Courthouse.


No date has been set for the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature to vote on the agreement, a spokesman said.



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