Officials say tribe involved in early planning stages of proposal
Building a tribal casino in Beloit is very high on the Ho-Chunk Nation’s list of priorities, according to spokeswoman Anne Thundercloud.
No timetable for that effort has been announced.
In late October of last year, Ho-Chunk officials spent $4 million on 26 acres of land that had been intended as a key part of the St. Croix and Bad River Chippewa tribes’ Beloit casino site.
It was not until now that Ho-Chunk officials have confirmed they indeed are working to develop a casino in Beloit.
“We continue to have serious interest in building a new casino in the Beloit area, and I think the $4 million land investment we made last year represents an aggressive step in our efforts to explore a variety of job creation investment and economic development opportunities,” Thundercloud said. “The Nation has been performing due diligence on initiating dialogues with officials and laying the groundwork for a successful application.”
Thundercloud does not know how long it may be before a casino proposal moves forward, however, because she said it can be a lengthy process. Still, she said it is one in which Ho-Chunk remains very focused.
In addition to Beloit being part of its ancestral homeland, Ho-Chunk is also committed to bringing good jobs and economic development to the Beloit area, said Thundercloud, citing Beloit’s rank with the highest unemployment rate in the state.
Thundercloud said she had no estimate of how many jobs might be created.
Ho-Chunk, however, has a history of giving a boost to communities all across the state.
For example, Ho-Chunk is the top employer in Sauk and Jackson counties and employs approximately 3,200 Wisconsin residents — 75 percent of whom are non-tribal members, according to Thundercloud.
Ho-Chunk pays out more than $102 million in payroll annually and also provides life, health, dental and vision insurance. The employees pay $8.1 million in taxes to the federal government and another $4.9 million to the state each year.
Ho-Chunk is also giving a portion of its earnings from its gaming and entertainment facilities to 11 Wisconsin counties in which it has land held in trust. Ho-Chunk will award those communities nearly $2.2 million annually for the next 25 years, making a contribution of more than $55 million to local economies.
As for the potential Beloit casino, Thundercloud said Ho-Chunk has renewed efforts over the last several months to reach out to local officials and to open dialogue with them about how to move forward. She also said they have discussed other options to explore job creation and economic opportunities.
City Manager Larry Arft told the Daily News earlier this month that he has had some ongoing communication with Ho-Chunk and is receiving enthusiastic support and assurances that they have been consulting with Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and are working to prepare the necessary documents.
Thundercloud said Ho-Chunk has had conversations in the past with the St. Croix and Bad River tribes (who still have options on adjacent land), but she is unaware of any kind of possible partnership.
Joe Hunt, the spokesman for the St. Croix and Bad River casino project, told the Daily News earlier this month the tribes look forward to sitting down with Ho-Chunk officials to discuss the future of a Beloit casino.
The Ho-Chunk Nation has 7,071 members and is said to be one of the strongest Native American tribes in the United States.
Today the Ho-Chunk Nation is a non-reservation tribe with 3,407 acres of trust land and 5,310 acres of taxable land — a total land base of 8,717 acres. Ho-chunk land is located in 12 counties including Dane, Monroe and La Crosse.
Ho-Chunk is headquartered in Black River Falls.
The Ho-Chunk enterprises include Class II and Class III gaming facilities, hotels and conference centers, convenience stores, movie theaters, and health care and fitness facilities.
The president is Wilfrid Cleveland, and the tribal legislature is made up of representatives for five districts.