Candidate Evers’ word should be kept by Gov. Evers.
The reaction here to federal authorities’ recommendation to approve the Ho-Chunk Nation’s casino complex plan for Beloit can be summed up in one word.
Beloit has been talking about tribal casino possibilities since the 1990s. Hopes have been raised and dashed more times than anyone can recall. Even the most fervent supporters had long since placed the likelihood of such a development happening in the highly doubtful column.
Yet there it is. The federal agency tasked with consideration has signed off. The application now moves to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. It’s a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from there. Evers could make a decision quickly or, more likely, he will take several months to announce his position.
After all, he’s a politician. This November—one way or the other—Wisconsin voters will face big decisions on a ballot topped by the contest between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Evers is not on the ballot, but Wisconsin looms large in the election. Among Evers’ main priorities will be avoiding anything that might stir up voters against his party. In other words, don’t expect a casino decision until after November.
Here at the Beloit Daily News, we distinctly recall asking candidate Evers in 2018 what he would do if he won and then a favorable recommendation for the Ho-Chunk casino landed on his desk as governor. Without hesitation, Evers said he would sign it.
Predictably, after his win over then-Gov. Scott Walker, Evers did what politicians do—he tiptoed his way back to a more cautious position. The governor’s office said only that Evers would carefully consider any casino plan that came to him.
It will be hard, however, to justify disapproving the Ho-Chunk plan. For starters, and perhaps most importantly, the Ho-Chunk compact with Wisconsin clearly states the tribe is entitled to one more gambling facility in Wisconsin. That’s also the easy way out for Evers, who can simply point to the compact and say he’s legally bound to say yes.
Compacts are contracts, though, so it’s also not hard to imagine various parties lawyering up and moving matters into the courts. Then it could be back to a waiting game.
Here’s how we see it, which is the same way we’ve seen it since the 1990s.
A casino complex is not the salvation of Beloit. Neither is it the damnation of Beloit. It’s an economic investment, bringing entertainment and tourism options to the community along with hundreds of jobs and millions in payroll.
From the outset objections have fallen roughly into two categories: (1) moral, holding that gambling is bad, and (2) reputational, with a belief that gambling could make Beloit look desperate and even encourage the presence of bad elements in the community.
On the moral side we take the libertarian approach. People who oppose gambling on moral grounds can choose to stay away. But people who oppose gambling on moral grounds are not empowered to choose for others that they must stay away as well.
On the reputational front, the first thing Beloit must stand strong for is the development of the larger complex plan to include a major hotel facility, conference space, entertainment theaters and venues, multiple restaurants, a water park, shops and more. A stand-alone casino is a non-starter. The good news is the Ho-Chunk Nation feels the same way and has been very public in expressing that position. It’s the full monty or nothing, which calls for an investment of more than $300 million and upwards of 1,500 jobs.
Near the beginning of this process, by the way, the Beloit Daily News dispatched journalists to visit several Wisconsin communities where tribal casino properties exist. Our reporters spoke to local law enforcement, to chambers of commerce, to business operators and people on the street. In each community we were told the tribes were good neighbors, operating responsibly, and that the presence of the casino properties represented a positive rather than a negative.
Likewise, it’s well known local governments in the Stateline Area have been supportive and the tribal plans have enjoyed strong, though not universal, community backing.
Any other developer proposing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to generate more than a thousand jobs would be met with a parade if, of course, we weren’t social distancing.
It’s time to get this done. Gov. Evers, the Beloit Daily News encourages you to do what you told us you would. Approve it.