The Ho-Chunk Nation’s application for a casino in Beloit, Wisconsin, has now been approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The agency has greenlighted the plan, which was forwarded on Friday and places about 33 acres of land -located near the intersection of Willowbrook and Colley roads and adjacent to Interstate 39/90- into trust for the project.
The tribe intends to build a complex which would feature one of the largest casinos in the state -with 2,000 slot games and 50 gaming tables-, in addition to a 300-room hotel with more than 45,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, five restaurants, and a 40,000 square foot indoor waterpark. The venue is expected to produce 3,000 construction jobs and 1,300 permanent jobs.
“There’s been some skepticism about the timeline because of the Nation’s reliance on the federal processes but we’ve been confident in the project’s viability and look forward to a bright future for Beloit, the state of Wisconsin, and the Ho-Chunk Nation,” Vice President Karena Thundercloud with the Ho-Chunk Nation said, according to Associated Press.
Voters in Beloit first approved the project in a 1999 referendum. The tribe then purchased land in 2009 and has been working to win federal and state approval to build a casino at the site since 2012, while Gov. Tony Evers signed off on the plan more than a year ago.
“It’s a real opportunity that will take to ride that wave of collaboration, ride the wave of the partnership, and you know, especially after the pandemic, you’ll see the economic recovery go more toward this economic boom of investment here,” said Ho-Chunk’s Public Relations Officer Ryan Greendeer, according to WIFR.
Ho-Chunk authorities feel that, after decades in the making, the Beloit casino project is now finally inching closer to becoming a reality, with major hurdles now cleared. The enthusiasm is also shared by city officials, which believe the project could be a major economic boost for Beloit.
“This entire project is going to be an economic engine, not only for the city of Beloit proper, but for this region as a whole. And so I cannot be more excited to have this final approval of land being placed into federal trust,” said Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther, according to the cited source.
The city and Ho-Chunk Nation will now negotiate a development agreement to move forward with infrastructure plans, leading to construction in the future. No timetable has yet been provided on when groundbreaking will come or when the project is expected to be completed.
Greendeer told Beloit Daily News some planning has already been completed and that the first phase will involve infrastructure work, while future stages of the project will involve seeking bids for construction of the project. The construction schedule will be completed in several stages including road improvements, utility work and more.
“We don’t have a construction schedule readily available yet, but we are hoping to get it underway as soon as possible,” he told the cited source. “Of course, we have a government procurement process that requires RFPs (requests for proposals) and bids, so it isn’t exactly like corporate construction timelines.”
Beloit is not the only city working on the opening of a permanent casino. Rockford, Illinois, is preparing for Hard Rock to break ground this summer on a new venue called Hard Rock: An Opening Act, to be located only 18 miles away from Ho-Chunk’s new venue. The casino opened in a temporary facility in November.
“Since opening in November, Rockford Casino—A Hard Rock Opening Act continues to experience month-over-month growth, bringing entertainment, jobs and tax revenue to Rockford and the state,” Rockford Casino President Geno Iafrate said, according to WIFR.
The Hard Rock’s casino leadership congratulated new neighbors Ho-Chunk on the approval through a statement released Friday. “Congratulations to the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Beloit region,” the release says. “Welcome to the neighborhood!”