BELOIT - After a promising meeting between local interests involved in the Ho-Chunk Nation casino plan for Beloit at the federal level in Washington, D.C. last week, Wisconsin state and federal legislators from both parties are coming together to support the project.
Ho-Chunk representatives and local leaders met with the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to gauge the ongoing casino application plan, with the plan currently pending with BIA. Some believe the plan will be reviewed favorably by BIA due to strong public support for the project and Beloit's economic challenges.
"There is strong community support for this project and I have been a longtime supporter because it would provide a much needed boost to the local economy," U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said. "I have requested that the Bureau of Indian Affairs give this project timely consideration and I continue to support seeing it move forward."
The project includes a hotel and conference center, with officials hopeful it would spur other developments in the area. The project is anticipated to bring 2,000 jobs to the area.
That's the most important facet of the plan, according to state Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville.
"I support the casino because of the jobs it will create," Ringhand said. "Beloit and the Ho-Chunk Nation have developed a great relationship after working on this project for a number of years. I hope the federal government approves the project so it can move forward."
The next step - no timetable has been set - would be for BIA to issue a notice of availability in the federal register, prompting a public hearing on the project in Beloit.
The Ho-Chunk Nation, city and Rock County have an agreement in place to share a percentage of revenue from the facility which will be used for building needed infrastructure projects in the area, officials say.
Ho-Chunk has agreed to pay two percent of the net win proceeds generated by the casino, and 30 percent of the two percent revenue would be allocated for the county. Payments of net win proceeds would be in lieu of property taxes at the proposed development, much of which would be on designated tribal land not subject to the tax.
"The city, county and Ho-Chunk have worked together in good faith on a strong application for the proposed casino," said state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton,.
It is unclear whether Gov. Scott Walker will support the plan, and his office could not be reached for comment Thursday. In such matters, governors have the final say. Walker killed a plan to locate a tribal casino in Kenosha.
State Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, urged Walker to support the plan.
State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said he will continue to monitor any developments related to the project, adding that he has reservations regarding the expansion of casino gambling in Wisconsin.
"...There is still a lengthy process ahead and a significant amount of information to be considered before reaching a final position on this potential project," Nass said.
Nation officials previously said they believe the project will move forward due to a 1990s compact between Ho-Chunk and the state specifying the tribe could open one additional Class Three gaming facility. Some of the most recent action on the plan included a 2015 extension of an intergovernmental agreement on the site near Colley and Willowbrook roads adjacent to Interstate 39/90.
Because of its compact with the state calling for one additional site, the Ho-Chunk Nation has expressed optimism Walker would treat its Beloit plan differently than his decision in Kenosha.
"As an elected official, I represent the interests of the Beloit community which is in favor of this project," Spreitzer said. "I hope the Ho-Chunk have their request approved by the federal government and by Governor Walker when this issue reaches the state level."
The casino proposal has a long history in Beloit. The original proposal - submitted by the Bad River and St. Croix Chippewa bands - dates back into the 1990s. The Bad River and St. Croix plan lingered and never came to fruition, eventually being superseded by the Ho-Chunk designs for the property.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, could not be reached for comment on the proposal. Pocan has supported the project in the past.