BDN_200422_CASINO (copy)

This bird’s-eye view of the proposed Ho-Chunk Nation casino-resort development in Beloit shows the project’s main campus. The plan remains under review by Gov. Tony Evers.

BELOIT — The Ho-Chunk Nation’s Beloit casino-resort project took a major step forward in 2020 after receiving federal approval.

The project has received approval from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and now sits with Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, who is required to make a two-part determination on the project.

The two-part process is required on gaming fee-to-trust acquisitions, said Ho-Chunk Nation Public Information Officer Ryan Greendeer.

“We are in the home stretch now,” Greendeer said. “The excitement is palpable.”

The proposal would allow the transfer of 33 acres of land into trust status as part of a larger 73.5-acre plot owned by Ho-Chunk near Willowbrook and Colley roads in Beloit. The site is adjacent to Interstate 39/90 and is located on the west side of the interstate highway, almost directly across from the Beloit Travel Wisconsin Welcome Center.

Greendeer said the tribe recently completed a feasibility study for the casino and resort project due to the impact of COVID-19.

“We are past the concept stage and the design team is doing some work ahead of site evaluation,” Greendeer said. “We are still looking at the full build-out and the feasibility study will have us looking at the longevity as far as phasing the development goes.”

As previously reported by the Beloit Daily News:

If Evers approves the plan, the project would “be done in phases,” Greendeer said.

In February of 2018, Evers, then-state superintendent of schools seeking the governorship in a race against incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker, said in an interview with the Beloit Daily News that he would sign the Ho Chunk casino proposal for Beloit. Later, Evers walked back outright support of the plan after winning election for governor in November of 2018. Evers said he would carefully review the proposal “to ensure fair consideration” for all parties.

In February of 2019, a draft white paper prepared by former Gov. Scott Walker’s Division of Gaming administration confirmed the Ho-Chunk Nation is entitled to one more casino in Wisconsin through the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed by Congress in 1988, according to the document obtained by the Beloit Daily News.

The project options identified during the process include the full plan (casino/hotel/water park/conference center/adjacent retail component); a reduced casino and commercial development; only a retail development; and finally a no action/no development option.

Ho-Chunk, Beloit and Rock County officials are all-in on the full project option. The development, according to the tribe, is projected to create 1,500 jobs to Beloit.

Evers has until April of 2021 to make a determination and can request an additional 180 days from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to review the proposal.

The Beloit casino project is not the only gaming proposal in the Stateline Area. Across the state line in Illinois, the Hard Rock Cafe Casino proposal in Rockford is advancing.

The Illinois Gaming Board gave a preliminary suitability ruling for the proposal in February. The casino and entertainment venue is planned to be built at the site of the former Clocktower Resort near Interstate 39/90. It is planned to have 64,000 square feet of space for gaming, three restaurants and three bars. It is expected to create 800 to 1,000 jobs in the area.

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