Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers on Wednesday approved plans for a Ho-Chunk Nation casino in the city of Beloit, on the Illinois border.
The governor’s blessing comes almost a year after the US Department of the Interior approved the Ho-Chunk application to put a 73-acre parcel of land into trust for the tribe.
The application was pending for almost seven years, and it’s been nearly 22 years since Beloit residents approved the project in a public referendum.
More recently, the city has been in a race with Rockford, Illinois, 17 miles away, to get their respective casino proposals up and running. Currently, Beloit is winning.
This, despite Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) once vowing to do “everything possible” to help gain first-mover advantage for Rockford.
A Rock and a Hard Place
The Illinois Gaming Board has other ideas. It has issued preliminary approval for a Rockford proposal from Hard Rock International, but is dragging its feet on rubber-stamping a license, to the frustration of city officials.
“We were hoping to counter [the Ho-Chunk casino] with Hard Rock, pulling people from all over the Midwest,” Illinois state Sen. Dave Syverson (R-35th) told the Associated Press.
He called Evers’ approval “disappointing.”
“Once it gets up and running under the Hard Rock brand, it will have a positive impact. In the meantime, if Beloit opens up before us, there’s no question it will have a negative impact on Northern Illinois,” Syverson added.
Hard Rock has guaranteed Rockford $7 million a year in gaming tax revenue and fees. But the agreement also stipulates the size of these payments could be renegotiated if a new casino were to open within 50 miles of the city.
During a media call Wednesday, Beloit city manager Lori Curtis Luther told reporters construction on the Ho-Chunk project was likely to start within a year. A time frame has not been determined for completion, although the complex will likely be built in phases.
Eventually, it will be the second-biggest casino in Wisconsin, behind the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee. When finished, it will boast 2,200 slot machines, a hotel tower with 300 rooms, a 40,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, five restaurants, retail shopping, a concert venue, and conference space – all within striking distance from Chicago.
On Wednesday, Evers praised the project as an economic revitalizer, emphasizing it will provide more than 2,000 short-term construction jobs and 1,500 long-term jobs when completed.
Since the proposal is for an off-reservation casino, the governor did have the power to veto it under federal law. But that was never in the cards. Evers has voiced his support for the $405 million proposal since before his election in 2018.
“As we work to bounce back from this pandemic, we must do everything we can to support economic development in communities across our state,” he said in a statement.
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