The federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs said Friday it would place 32-acres of land in Beloit, Wis. into trust for the Ho-Chunk Nation. This was the final requirement for the tribe to begin construction on a $405 million casino on the outskirts of the city.
The Ho-Chunk Nation is one of Wisconsin’s 11 federally recognized tribes and its biggest casino operator. The Beloit casino will be the tribe’s seventh statewide.
The BIA sign-off comes a year after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers gave the casino his blessing. The Beloit project is one of just a handful of off-reservation tribal casinos that have been approved in the US, and the governor had the power to veto it. That would not usually be the case with an on-reservation casino.
In 2015, Evers’ predecessor, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, sunk a plan by the Menominee tribe to build a casino complex in the city of Kenosha in partnership with the Hard Rock.
The land-in-trust process is where the federal government partially removes a parcel of land from the jurisdiction of the state to convert it into tribal sovereign land.
People of Kecak
The Ho-Chunk have been floating the idea of a casino in Beloit for almost 20 years and applied for BIA approval around nine years ago. Off-reservation casinos take a notoriously long time to approve.
In order for land to be taken into trust, a tribe must prove to have ancestral ties to the area. The Ho-Chunk claim they are “the aboriginal people of Kecak,” a native village on which Beloit now stands.
The casino complex will include a convention center, hotel, and a water park. The tribe says it will create 1,300 permanent jobs and 3,000 construction jobs.
The Nation sees this project as an investment to recover from the pandemic and create new economic opportunities for everyone,” Ho-Chunk spokesman Ryan Greendeer told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The tribe now plans to finalize design and infrastructure work before construction commences, he added.
The casino will be a stone’s throw from the Illinois state line, which makes it a direct competitor with the planned Hard Rock in Rockford, Ill., just 17 miles away.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has vowed that he will do “everything possible” to give Rockford first-mover advantage.
But Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther believes that the Rockford project is “not on scale of the entertainment destination proposed in Beloit.”
On Friday, she thanked the BIA for signing the project off so that the city could “welcome the Ho-Chunk Nation home to Kecak.”
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