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Beloit casino

Graphic from the Ho-Chunk Nation & Cuningham Group of the proposed casino and resort. 

A proposed Ho-Chunk casino in Beloit inched closer to reality Friday when the project moved toward the federal government’s final approval process.

The federal Bureau of Indian affairs Friday published a draft an environmental impact statement for the 74-acre, $405 million casino and resort project, to be located along Interstate 39-90 and Willowbrook Road. That moves the project into the public comment stage, which allows for a 45-day comment period ending on Dec. 24. A public hearing is set for Dec. 11 at Aldrich Middle School in Beloit.

The prospects for the project are brighter than a Menomonee tribe casino in Kenosha, which was rejected after federal approval by Gov. Scott Walker in 2015. Walker hasn’t signaled whether he would approve the Beloit project. But Tony Evers, who defeated Walker in Tuesday’s election, told the Beloit Daily News in February that he would sign off on the plan.

“I would sign that agreement,” the paper quoted Evers as saying.

The Ho-Chunk Nation, in a statement, said the project has the support of Beloit and Rock County officials and community members.

“We feel energized as this is the farthest this project has ever been. We look forward to working with our local partners through this approval process that creates thousands of construction jobs and 1,500 full time jobs for Wisconsin,” said Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland in the statement.

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A joint statement from city manager Lori Curtis and the Beloit City Council said the city was “thrilled” with the development.

“We’re hopeful that it can now move more quickly through the final approval process to provide 1,500 jobs and to bring countless visitors to the Greater Beloit area,” the statement says. “This casino, hotel, convention center, and waterpark will surely be an asset to our great community. The Ho-Chunk Nation has an excellent reputation for running high-quality properties, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with the tribe throughout the duration of this project."

The project includes a 300-room hotel, an indoor water park, a conference center, an entertainment hall and retail.

If the plan gains the governor's approval, construction could start by 2020.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.