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County committee approves casino agreement

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GINA R. HEINE
March 7, 2012
— Concerns over the Ho-Chunk Nation putting local land into federal trust and gambling addiction were among issues citizens and county supervisors raised before the Rock County Board Staff Committee approved an agreement for a Beloit casino Tuesday.

City of Beloit, Ho-Chunk Nation and Rock County officials responded to the concerns from two residents and several supervisors during the nearly two-hour discussion.


The committee voted 7-1 to recommend to the county board approval of the intergovernmental agreement between the county, city and nation. The county board will vote at its 6 p.m. meeting Thursday at the Rock County Courthouse.


The agreement lays out the terms for the Ho-Chunk Nation to operate an off-reservation casino. Approval from all three government bodies is the last step before the casino application can be submitted to the federal government for approval.


The Beloit City Council approved the agreement on a 6-1 vote Monday night.


Rock County Supervisor Marilynn Jensen, who voted against the recommendation Tuesday, brought a long list of questions and requested more information. She wondered about everything from the differences in fee land versus trust land to how church bingo fundraisers would be affected, and she wanted more information on the village of Hobart's struggles with the Oneida Nation trust land requests.


The Rev. Jerry Amstutz of Janesville started the discussion on Hobart, a village outside of Green Bay. He urged supervisors to research the problems the village has associated with the increasing amount of land the Oneida Nation has put into trust.


Rock County corporation counsel Jeff Kuglitsch said Hobart is in a tough situation, but it's a much different one than here. The Oneida are operating on reservation land they already own in Hobart, which allows them to put it into trust, he said. Here, the Ho-Chunk would be operating the casino on a 32-acre parcel of off-reservation land.


If the nation were to buy any other nearby land, it would remain on the property tax rolls, Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said. If the nation wished to submit another trust application in the future, the IGA states all parties would negotiate in good faith for an amendment to the agreement.


Supervisor Alan Sweeney, who is not on the committee, also had several questions in advance of the board's Thursday discussion, including how the county's 30-percent share of the net winnings was decided. According to the IGA, Beloit will receive 2 percent of the casino's net winnings with no offsets, and of that, the county will receive 30 percent.


County Administrator Craig Knutson said the negotiations went back to about 2001 when the county and city worked on the original casino proposal with the Chippewa tribes. It was decided then that a 30-70 split between the county and Beloit would be fair, and the split carried forward to this agreement, he said.


Arft said nearly all government services, except those from the county health department, would be handled by the city, such as police, fire, EMS.


About the casino

The Ho-Chunk 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 1,000 to 2,000 people.


Beloit and Rock County could receive millions of dollars through annual net win payments. According to the intergovernmental 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.


Beloit City Manager Larry Arft has conservatively estimated the 2 percent payment at $5 million to $7 million. Of that, the county would receive 30 percent, or $1.5 million to $2.1 million. The payments replace property taxes.



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