The Ho-Chunk Nation has the green light from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to build a $405 million casino resort outside Beloit, Wisconsin.
The Ho-Chunk Nation is one of Wisconsin’s 11 federally recognized tribes and its biggest casino operator. If the Beloit casino is completed, it will be the tribe’s seventh statewide.
The BIA announced Thursday that it would take into trust a 73-acre parcel of land a stone’s throw from the Illinois state line, opposite the Wisconsin Welcome Center.
The application had been under review by the agency, which is part of the US Department of the Interior, for almost seven years. But it has been around two decades since the tribe first floated the idea of a Beloit casino.
State of Emergency
With the full backing of the City of Beloit, all that now stands between the Ho-Chunk and its planned hotel-casino, waterpark, and convention center — from a legal standpoint, at least — is the signature of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D).
Under federal law, a state’s governor has the power to veto off-reservation tribal casino proposals. But there are reasons for the Ho-Chunk to be optimistic on this front.
“I would sign that agreement,” Evers said when quizzed on the issue during his 2018 election campaign by the Beloit Daily News.
But with Wisconsin, like most of the country, in an official state of emergency, the coronavirus is likely to delay the process further.
While Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther welcomed news of the BIA approval in a statement, she also acknowledged that the city’s focus remained elsewhere.
Unequivocally, our highest priority is doing everything we possibly can to keep our staff and the public safe,” said Curtis Luther. “Once this crisis is over, we look forward to celebrating this amazing announcement that will bring much-needed future revenue and jobs to Beloit.”
Prior to the coronavirus crisis, Beloit had been in a race to establish a casino with the city of Rockford, Illinois, 17 miles across the border. Having just signed a massive gambling expansion package, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker vowed last summer that he would do “everything possible” to give Rockford first-mover advantage.
In October, Rockford City Council chose a development proposal by Hard Rock International as its preferred bid, and the proposal is now in the hands of the Illinois Gaming Board, which will have final say on the matter.
But with the socioeconomic uncertainty the coronavirus has brought, it’s unlikely either party is in any hurry to start building their respective casinos, at least until the bigger economic picture emerges.
Having waited seven years on its BIA application, the good news may have come at precisely the wrong time for the Ho-Chunk.