Only five people, and just two who don't hold leadership positions in the city of Beloit, spoke up Thursday about a long-debated casino proposal.
The fact that the meeting, hosted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, happened at all is a good sign, said Larry Arft, Beloit's city manager.
"It indicates that the process is moving," he said. "(The BIA) coming in here this close to the holidays indicates they're very serious."
Scott Doig, the bureau's environmental impact specialist, wouldn't say how serious his agency was considering the Ho-Chunk Nation's casino proposal, which is expected to cost $150 million and bring 2,000 jobs to the area.
"We treat (all projects) similarly as we move ahead in the process," Doig said. He said it would "be fair" to say the federal agency would take 18 to 24 months to consider the proposal.
The BIA will analyze traffic, environmental and other concerns, Doig said.
The casino plan includes a 700,000-square foot facility with a theater, a 300-room hotel and a class three casino with upward of 2,200 slot machines and 50 table games.
Beloit business leaders said the plan would help a city still struggling to escape the recession, when unemployment climbed to 19.1 percent. It's about 9 percent now.
"This project would represent to us an amazing step forward," said Randall Upton, president of the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce. Upton said he represented 635 businesses.
Only one person spoke up against the casino. Jane DeSoto of Beloit said many of the jobs would be low-paying and a casino wouldn't be the cure for the city's problems.
"Gambling doesn't improve the quality of life," she said. "Gambling fosters greed and stimulates the fatalistic faith in chance."
About 800 of the 2,000 permanent jobs would go to tribal members in southern Wisconsin, a Ho-Chunk representative said.
The tribe would be exempt from paying property taxes on the land. Besides the jobs and construction impact, Arft said Beloit would receive at least $5 million in payments in lieu of taxes, per an agreement with the tribe.
The casino idea has been floated for more than a decade. In a 1999 referendum, 61 percent of Beloit voters approved implementation of a casino project. But the project ran into roadblocks in Washington, D.C.
For members of the public wishing to comment about the casino project, send to:
Ms. Diane Rosen,
Midwest Regional Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Midwest Region Norman Pointe II Building
5600 West American Boulevard, Suite 500
Bloomington, MN 55347
Include your name, return address and "DEIS Scoping Comments, Ho-Chunk Nation Beloit Casino Project" on the first page of your written comments.