The Ho-Chunk Nation’s $405 million Beloit casino and resort project took a major step forward Wednesday when Gov. Tony Evers agreed with a federal decision to move the designated land into trust status.
Evers’ decision paves the way for one of the largest entertainment complexes in Wisconsin. It is expected to add about 1,500 permanent local jobs and more than 2,000 construction jobs, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
The governor said he agreed with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision in April 2020 that taking 32 acres of land adjacent to Interstate 90/39 into trust for gaming purposes would be in the tribe’s best interests and would not be detrimental to the community.
“As we work to bounce back from this pandemic, we must do everything we can to support economic development in communities across our state,” Evers said in the news release.
“The Ho-Chunk Nation and local officials in Beloit and Rock County have been working together toward providing jobs and long-term economic support in the region, and this is an important step forward in making the Beloit casino a reality.”
Ryan Greendeer, Ho-Chunk Nation public relations officer, said there was no timeline for construction yet, but Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther said it was a “real possibility” that construction could start this year.
Luther said the city remains “optimistic and hopeful” that an in-person groundbreaking ceremony will be held soon.
“The city of Beloit is committed to working with the Ho-Chunk Nation on this development,” Luther said. “Not only will the Ho-Chunk Nation bring economic development, job growth and entertainment activity to our community, but the nation will also provide cultural and historical education to our residents. We look forward to welcoming the Ho-Chunk Nation back to their home.”
With Evers’ concurrence, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs will prepare the determination and begin the final administrative process for accepting the land into trust status.
Once it is fully developed, the site will feature a 300-room hotel, five restaurants and 2,200 slots along with 50 table games in the casino. It is also expected to include a 40,000-square-foot water park, an employee child care facility, and a 30,000-square-foot conference center and entertainment venue.
In Wednesday’s release, the Ho-Chunk Nation called Evers’ approval “an economic win for the Nation, the Beloit area and State of Wisconsin.”
“We’ve been focusing so much time and effort on our COVID-19 response that it’s almost surreal to have this great news of the Governor’s concurrence today,” Ho-Chunk Nation Vice President Karena Thundercloud said. “We want to thank the City of Beloit, Rock County, and our respective communities for all the support over the past several years. We look forward to the day when we can celebrate everybody who helped this project along.”
As previously reported by the Beloit Daily News, the project is expected to be constructed in phases.
“Once the design is finalized, we will be better able to predict when we will be able to finish the project,” Greendeer said. “It’s dependent on a number of factors. The plans have not been finalized quite yet, and we don’t know how the phasing will work.”
Under a revenue-sharing agreement, the tribe, city of Beloit and Rock County will receive millions of dollars in unrestricted revenue after the casino and resort open.
Based on a 2018 analysis of anticipated revenue, it is estimated that local impact payments of $5.2 million annually could flow to the city and county. The revenue would be split 70% for the city and 30% for the county under the revenue-sharing agreement. The intergovernmental agreement currently in effect between the city and the tribe states that 2% of net win proceeds will be given to the city and county.
The Beloit City Council is scheduled to meet Thursday to make a third amendment to the intergovernmental agreement that calls for an extension of the agreement until June 30, 2022.
The idea for a tribal casino in Beloit dates to the 1990s.
The Bad River Lake Superior Chippewa and the St. Croix Chippewa made a proposal to establish a casino, but in 2001, the application to place the land in trust was rejected by the U.S. Department of Interior.
The casino proposal was rejected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2009.
In 2009, the Ho-Chunk Nation bought 30 acres of land where the Chippewa bands had planned to build a casino. The Ho-Chunk bought 41 more acres in the area from the city of Beloit in 2013 and moved forward with its own casino project application starting in 2012.
On April 16, 2020, the U.S. Department of Interior approved the Ho-Chunk proposal for a Beloit casino by issuing an approval of land-into-trust status for a portion of the 70-acre property.
Evers’ approval Wednesday was the first of a two-part determination for the Beloit proposal.