Mixed reactions over Beloit casino progress

Thursday 23rd April 2020

BELOIT, Wis. (WMTV) -- Plans for a Ho-Chunk casino in Beloit are moving forward after the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the Ho-Chunk Nation's application.

Preliminary renderings of the proposed Beloit Ho-Chunk Casino & Resort

The project is nearly a decade in the making.

"We've waited years for the approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs," said Celestino Ruffini, CEO of VIsit Beloit.

Rock County, the City of Beloit and the Ho-Chunk Nation initially approved plans for a casino in 2012.

The federal review process is usually long: In this case, it took eight years to get the green light. However, there are mixed reactions.

Opponents say Wisconsin does not need another casino, while supporters believe the project will be a major employer.

"We have a saturated market here, they're looking at, talking about building a Hard Rock Cafe just across the state line," said Lorri Pickens, executive director of Citizens Against Expanded Gambling.

Ruffini argued Beloit needs the jobs the project would bring.

"This casino resort will bring the jobs to this community that really and truly will make a difference in the livelihood and in the pocketbooks of our residents," he explained.

The Ho-Chunk Nation hopes to build the casino on the southeast corner of Willowbrook and Colley Road, near I-39/90. The project also includes a hotel, convention center and waterpark.

Opponents worry the large complex will hurt local businesses, while supporters believe the amenities will bring in business from across the region.

"People who go to this casino, there'll be a full service deal and then they'll leave and there'll be no extra money spent in the community," Pickens said.

Ruffini argued, "From the travel and tourism perspective, it's really the meetings, events and conventions that will be brought here to the city that will put us on the map."

Pickens and Ruffini are both waiting on the next step in the process, Governor Tony Evers' approval.

Pickens hopes the governor does not approve the plan, and she has encouraged opponents to reach out to Governor Evers' office. Ruffini said he hopes Evers makes a timely decision so there is a final resolution.

A spokesperson for Governor Evers' office told NBC15, "The governor will be carefully reviewing the application and listening to all sides of the issue to ensure fair consideration."

Even if the governor approves it, plans could be further delayed. Ho-Chunk Nation President WhiteEagle said the nation has taken a financial hit after closing the rest of its casinos during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he is not sure they will be able to shoulder the cost of the Beloit project right away.

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