Pie-in-the-sky? Not any longer

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Beloit's long-delayed casino proposal has momentum.

AT THE RISK of being herded among the eternal optimists, after a couple of decades, we will say this:

Beloit has never been closer to seeing the proposed casino-resort complex actually happen.

From the initial days in the 1990s, when the Bad River and St. Croix bands approached the community, to the present day with the Ho-Chunk Nation plan, so much time has passed many folks had just about given up. Think again.

There is forward movement.

LAST WEEK A public hearing was convened by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency within the U.S. Department of Interior. The hearing essentially was a listening session, one of the final steps toward completing the federal assessment of the Ho-Chunk proposal.

What the feds heard was strong official support for the plan from top representatives of the city and Rock County. A few citizens also spoke, some for the plan and others against, mostly objecting to gambling on religious or moral grounds. Tribal representatives also addressed the BIA representatives, expressing commitment and confidence in the proposal.

As explained by the BIA, the next step is to complete the final environmental impact statement and move to a final decision, up or down, in the federal process.

Then, if a favorable review emerges, the matter will be referred to the governor of Wisconsin for final approval or disapproval.

IN THE LONG HISTORY of the casino possibilities in Beloit, that has been a major obstacle. The exception came early on, when Gov. Tommy Thompson occupied the office. In an interview, Thompson told the Beloit Daily News he would be inclined to approve the plan but only after negotiating a substantial revenue bump for the state.

Then Thompson left to join the cabinet of President George W. Bush. His Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum moved up to the big chair, and made it clear in interviews with the paper he didn't like gambling of any kind.

McCallum lost his bid for election to Jim Doyle, who held the office for eight years and, though he tap-danced when asked, it was clear he preferred not to see the matter land on his desk.

Next came Gov. Scott Walker, who became the first to actually have a casino plan arrive at his office. He killed a proposal from Kenosha, which made the Beloit plan look as if it would be dead on arrival.

In November, voters ousted Walker and elected Democrat Tony Evers. Earlier in 2018, candidate Evers sat for an interview with the Beloit Daily News and was asked directly what he would do if a Beloit casino complex deal landed on his desk. Evers said: "I would sign that agreement." He also directly acknowledged the Ho-Chunk compact allows the tribe to have an additional gaming facility.

SO THE STARS may be aligning. The timing appears fortuitous if an affirmative recommendation emerges next year from Washington.

Obviously, Beloit is a different city than it was two decades ago. The sense of desperation that existed, especially with the shuttering of Beloit Corporation, is a distant memory. The community has enjoyed substantial success and investment, and there's no reason to believe that will not continue.

Those who may have looked at the casino proposal as salvation always over-estimated its likely impact. Besides, today Beloit is not in need of salvation.

Still, a major complex with high visibility from the interstate at the state line would add to Beloit's destination status, contributing significantly to the growing reasons for visitors to come. The numbers are equally impressive - over $400 million investment, a couple thousand jobs, millions in annual payroll, and millions in payments to the city and county. That's with the top option - endorsed both by local government and the Ho-Chunk Nation - of the full complex, including casino, hotel, water park, retail outlets and more. Any lesser options, obviously, would be less deserving of support.

THIS IS NOT A sure thing. The feds could go negative. Evers could renege on his word. Something can always happen to scramble the works.

But make no mistake, Beloit. This proposal has moved dramatically from pie-in-the-sky status to a real development possibility.

In our view, that's a good thing and another promising prospect for a bigger, better, more prosperous Greater Beloit.

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