By Jim Hagerty
BELOIT — A casino in Beloit took another step forward last week as the city and Ho-Chunk Nation representatives laid out a plan they say will have an enormous economic impact on the region.
“This is a potential game-changer for our local community and the impact is dramatic,” Beloit City Manager Lori Luther said at press conference.
The plan has been in the works for years, as Beloit, like Rockford, has generated significant looks from lawmakers to tap the city for major gambling expansion. Luther said the $405.5 million project will include a 40,000-square-foot water park, 300-room hotel, restaurants, retail and a convention center marketed to travelers as a family attraction just west of I-90 near Willowbrook and Colley roads.
The primary targets, Luther said, are Chicagoland travelers, including those in Rockford and South Beloit, coming to Beloit as their destination or along the way to other Wisconsin destinations.
Officials say the project would create more than 4,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, in Illinois, State Sen. Dave Syverson said while the stateline casino would be a boon for Beloit, it would “devastate” Rockford. The Republican said the water park would likely shut down Magic Waters. The convention center would also hamper Rockford’s entertainment facilities.
“They would have Tier 1 concerts,” Syverson said via the Associated Press. “That would wipe the Coronado and BMO (Harris Bank Center) out.”
Syverson has been vocal about including Rockford in Illinois’ gambling expansion. The latest plan by a local investment group is to tear down the Clock Tower Resort and build a casino facing the East State Street I-90 entrance. Rockford was considered under Senate Bill 7 earlier this spring as part of the state’s “Grand Bargain” budget deal. However, nothing was cemented in July when Illinois lawmakers passed its first balanced budget in two years. Rockford remains one of six sites eyed for potential casinos.
Illinois casinos pay a flat fee of $100,000 and $30,000 per gambling station–per seat at a table and in front of each slot machine. That means a typical license can cost as much as a half-billion dollars.
Ho-Chunk would be granted a license under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988. It states, “Indian tribes have the exclusive right to regulate gaming activity on Indian lands if the gaming activity is not specifically prohibited by Federal law and is conducted within a State which does not, as a matter of criminal law and public policy, prohibit such gaming activity.”
There are three classes of gaming defined by the IGRA. Each is subject to different jurisdictions and levels
of regulation. Most casinos are Class III gaming facilities. The Beloit casino would be Ho-Chunk’s largest facility.
Luther said the Beloit City Council and the Rock County Board are behind it the project. It must also be reviewed by Gov. Scott Walker, who could approve the license as early as 2019, paving the way for a 2020 groundbreaking. R.