Officials from the Ho-Chunk Nation, city of Beloit, and Rock County unveiled plans for the proposed Ho-Chunk Gaming – Beloit casino. The plans were released during a press conference at the Nature at the Confluence Learning Center in South Beloit, Illinois, on Dec. 21.
The panel of officials spoke to members of the press about the November 2017 findings of the Innovation Group study, which is an economic impact analysis of the proposed casino, and plans to move forward.
Although the casino project has been ongoing for years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decision on a trust application and Governor Walker’s approval are needed before anything can happen.
The Beloit city manager said the city, county, and the Ho-Chunk Nation are hopeful for a 2020 construction and a 2021 opening of the Beloit casino project if all the approvals fall into place.
Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland provided some historical context about the Ho-Chunk Nation’s ties to the area and the effort to build a casino near the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
“I’d like to say a word of thanks to the city, the community; just walking around this building I see a lot of ideas of knowing that the people here understand that this is our aboriginal lands, this area right here,” Cleveland said. “We had a significant part in this area; there was a village that was here, the Kecak village.”
Prior to opening its casinos, the Ho-Chunk Nation negotiated a gaming compact with the state of Wisconsin in 1992.
With a few amendments over the years, the gaming compact included language of a future fourth casino location, as well as ancillary sites.
Ho-Chunk Gaming locations in Wisconsin Dells, Black River Falls, and Nekoosa operate as three of the Nation’s casinos, while Madison, Tomah, and Wittenberg are ancillary sites.
A tribal representative, the state’s governor, and a Bureau of Indian Affairs official approved and signed off on the gaming compact before casino operations began. The proposed Beloit casino would be the fourth casino site as outlined in the gaming compact.
The Ho-Chunk Nation makes annual gaming compact payments to the state of Wisconsin that figure in the proposed fourth casino site.
“With the state of Wisconsin, we negotiated a gaming compact, at the time, it was Governor Thompson. We would be able to have casinos as part of our self-determination,” Cleveland said. “Another part of the compact said we’d have a fourth site some place, sometime in the future.”
“We know that if we had a casino here, we know it would enlighten the community directly and indirectly with employment and different other facets of gaining revenue.”
Since 2012, the Ho-Chunk Nation and the city of Beloit have worked together to build a partnership on the casino project.
This past year, the partnership with the city included trips to Washington D.C. to speak with officials at Department of Interior and the White House, Cleveland said.
“It looks very promising with these visits that progress is going to be made with moving forward with this casino,” Cleveland said.
Ho-Chunk Nation District 4 Representative Shelby Visintin presented information on how the casino project would benefit tribal members.
“It’s been a long time coming for us. This process has been very arduous for us, but we want to make sure we see it into fruition,” Visintin said.
The Ho-Chunk Nation’s 2015 tribal census showed that unemployment is five times higher than the national average within the tribe’s population.
Visintin said job opportunities within her district and throughout the Ho-Chunk Nation are needed.
“Another way the project will affected the Ho-Chunk Nation, is through our healthcare, our education, our social services in ways of our elders, our veterans, our children,” Visintin said.
“There’s so much that it’ll affect for us, but those are the main items that will be impacted in a positive way.”
Some of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s services, programs, and facility locations are limited to a 14 county area that presents a barrier to tribal members who live outside the community, Visintin said.
“We hope to expand those services out further and be able to reach tribal members that maybe don’t have transportation in order to get to healthcare clinics and dental clinics,” Visintin said.
Beloit City Manager Lori Luther spoke about how the proposed casino would positively affect the Beloit area.
“We recognize more than anyone that this project will be mutually beneficial not just to the Ho-Chunk Nation and the city of Beloit, Wisconsin proper, but to our friends in South Beloit, Illinois and to this region as a whole,” Luther said.
“It is far more than a casino. It is a hotel and convention center, and a 40,000 square-foot indoor waterpark. It’s a very exciting concept to have right in our backyard. The restaurants and the retail development, all of these things are positive economic impacts for this entire region.”
“We could not be more proud of the partnership we’ve had with the individuals with the Ho-Chunk Nation. It is just proven to, time and time again, be of mutual benefit,” Luther said. “Obviously, there are a number of pieces of the process that we have to follow. We couldn’t be more excited about the potential of this project to finally come to fruition.”
Rock County Board of Supervisors Chairman Russ Podzilni gave the county’s position on the proposed casino plans.
“I’ve written countless letters to individuals, bureaus, agencies, all stressing the importance of this project, to not only Beloit, but to all of Rock County,” Podzilni said. “We were on board since day one, and you have our undivided support. We’re with you all the way. We’re very happy about it.”
Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Business Executive Director Robert Mudd spoke about some of the particular plans of the casino project.
“Keep in mind that the things I mention are all estimates at this point in time, because we have some hurdles we have to get through before we move into my area of expertise,” Mudd said.
“The estimated project costs is a little over $405 million. The estimated number of employees is about 1,500 from what I calculated so far. Keep in mind, of that 1,500, about 80 percent will go right to this area here. It’ll have an important impact on your economy.”
The casino project will have an estimated 2,200 slot machines.
The hotel will have an estimated 300 rooms, a 30,000 square-foot convention center, and a 40,000 square-foot indoor waterpark.
“Estimated hotel, and I’m looking at four star, it’s what I’m after,” Mudd said. “This is the first time we’ll put a waterpark in, but there’s quite a bit of demand for it. These are all estimates. There are things that have to happen before I can get an architect going.”
The project plans include about 175,000 square feet for five shops and restaurants.
“Do I actually know what I’m having in there? No, I don’t yet. All this is in planning,” Mudd said.
The Ho-Chunk Nation owns two properties in Beloit. One that is being placed into trust land and one that will remain fee simple. Both properties are just over 30 acres. The trust land will be used for the casino itself, and fee simple property will be used for retail development area of the casino project.
“A lot of coordination is going to happen when we get the green flag. We have to work with the city and the business people to decide on how we are going to develop that (retail section),” Mudd said.
City Manager Luther gave details about the intergovernmental agreement reached between the Ho-Chunk Nation, the city, and county on a revenue sharing.
“We have a three-party agreement with the City of Beloit, Rock County, and the Ho-Chunk Nation that provides for what is similar to what you might consider as payment in lieu of taxes. The amount that is estimated in that revenue sharing provision is approximately $5 million per year to our community,” Luther said.
“That is split in a 70 to 30 percentage split between the city and the county. The city would be looking at $3.5 million annually. Rock County will be looking at 1.5 million on annual basis. So needless to say, this is a potential game charger for our whole community, and the impact is dramatic.”
Vice President of the Beloit City Council Regina Dunkin made a statement of support for the casino project.
“Our city council strongly supports a partnership with the Ho-Chunk Nation. I’d also like to reiterate, the casino would bring in employment opportunities for the city of Beloit. Over 2,000 jobs, 120 construction jobs, and much more,” Dunkin said. “Shopping. We will have more businesses here, and (more options) dining. This effort will certainly impact and enhance the economic growth that has already taken place in our great city.”
After the Bureau of Indian Affairs approves the trust application, Governor Walker must also approve the plan for the casino. President Cleveland was asked about how he thinks the governor will handle it.
“We have a very good relationship with Governor Walker. We’ve had opportunities to go to Madison to meet with Governor Walker. He’s not committing himself to say this is going to go,” Cleveland said.
“But according to the compact that I talked about earlier, it mentions that all the steps that we do with the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the city and county here, it’s all positive. All the “i”s are dotted, “t”s are crossed, and then, according to the compact the governor will be signing our application.”
President Cleveland answered a question about whether other tribes would be against the casino project.
“Well, the compact that we have with the state of Wisconsin, what we are doing here is included in there. Unlike the prior ones that he (Gov. Walker) didn’t approve. So there is a large difference,” he said.