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ho-chunk nation beloit casino rendering
Artist’s rendering of a proposed Indian gaming facility in Beloit, Wisconsin. Image courtesy Ho-Chunk Nation
Ho-Chunk Nation moves forward with off-reservation casino
Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Ho-Chunk Nation is moving forward with an off-reservation casino after securing support from the state of Wisconsin.

The $405 million development in the city of Beloit has been in the works for several years, with the Bureau of Indian Affairs approving the project at the federal level almost a year ago. The tribe is now thanking Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) for issuing his concurrence, marking a key achievement in the long-running process.

“We’ve been focusing so much time and effort on our COVID-19 response that it’s almost surreal to have this great news of the Governor’s concurrence today,” Ho-Chunk Nation Vice President Karena Thundercloud said on Wednesday.

“We want to thank the city of Beloit, Rock County, and our respective communities for all the support over the past several years,” Thundercloud added. “We look forward to the day when we can celebrate everybody who helped this project along.”

The tribe has been pursuing the casino under the two-part determination provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The law requires approval not just by the BIA, but also from the state, where local officials have long been supportive.

“The city of Beloit remains optimistic and hopeful that we can celebrate a groundbreaking soon. The city of Beloit is committed to working with the Ho-Chunk Nation on this development,” said City Manager Lori Curtis Luther. “Not only will the Ho-Chunk Nation bring economic development, job growth and entertainment activity to our community, but the Nation will also provide cultural and historical education to our residents. We look forward to welcoming the Ho-Chunk Nation back to their home.”

The tribe plans to build a casino, hotel, convention center, restaurants and waterpark on 33 acres in Beloit. The site in Rock County is close to the state border with Illinois.

“Rock County appreciates that Governor Evers shares the local vision for how this project will impact our economy and help make Beloit an entertainment destination. Moving forward with this development as Rock County comes out of the pandemic will accelerate our community’s economic growth,” said Rock County Board Chairman Rich Bostwick. “We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in the Ho-Chunk Nation and the City of Beloit to make this project a success.”

Despite the good news, the tribe must still clear additional hurdles. Before the casino can open, the BIA must place the 33-acre site into trust, a decision that has not yet been made by the Biden administration.

There is no timeline for the BIA to take action, although President Joe Biden, during his campaign, said restoring tribal homelands would be a top priority of his administration. Since then, former Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, has become Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native person to lead the Department of the Interior.

“Already, Interior is engaged in tribal consultation to restore the government-to-government relationship with sovereign tribal nations,” Haaland said on her first day in office last Wednesday, during a call with the Native media.

But local officials are optimistic. They are eager to see the impact of bringing 1,500 permanent jobs and thousands of construction jobs to the region with the tribal development.

“An entertainment destination of this magnitude is a win for the entire greater Beloit region and will provide job opportunities for our residents,” said Beloit City Council President Regina Dunkin. “We send our sincerest appreciation to Governor Evers for his careful review and approval of this project. Congratulations to the Ho-Chunk Nation, we look forward to seeing your success in Beloit!”

Artist’s rendering of a proposed Indian gaming facility in Beloit, Wisconsin. Image courtesy Ho-Chunk Nation

Since IGRA became law in 1988, very few tribes have been able to open casinos under the two-part determination provisions. The first one, however, was in Wisconsin — the Forest County Potawatomi Community has been operating a facility in Milwaukee since March 1991.

Other tribes have since attempted to do the same in Wisconsin without much success. The most recent was the Menominee Nation, whose project was approved by the BIA, only for former governor Scott Walker, a Republican former presidential candidate, to reject it at the state level.

The Ho-Chunk Nation is hosting a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the news.