Two Bills Would Relocate Indiana License
Two bills introduced in the Indiana legislature would allow the Majestic Star Casino in Gary to move inland and relocate one of its two licenses. One is Senate Bill 552, filed by state Senators John Ford and Mark Messmer. The other is Senate Bill 636, authored by state Senator Eddie Melton. SB 552 is pending before the Senate Public Policy Committee and SB 636 is assigned to the Appropriations Committee. Neither has been scheduled for a hearing yet.
Ford’s and Messmer’s bill would allow Majestic Star Casino I and II to relocate, with one remaining in Gary and the other moving to Vigo County, where Terre Haute is located. The Gary city council would have to approve the relocations; the casino that would move to Vigo County would require approval from that district’s government and a local referendum also would be held. “You don’t want to just force it on some community,” Ford said.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson stated she would like the Majestic Star casinos to leave Lake Michigan’s Buffington Harbor so the city could develop a transportation hub there. The casinos are about to be purchased by Spectacle Entertainment, owned by former officials of Indianapolis-based Centaur Gaming officials, now owned by Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment.
Spectacle General Counsel John Keeler said the company supports SB 552. “It’s a great starting place. It’s a long, long process until the end of April.” However, he noted Spectacle officials have concern over a provision in the bill requiring the casino to pay $3 million a year to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to help fund preservation and maintenance at the historic West Baden Springs Hotel. Also, Keeler said Spectacle officials are weighing if the bill’s $150 million investment requirement is feasible.
In support of the effort to bring a casino to the city, the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign, “Terre Haute Is All In.” Ford said, “They’re going to strongly advocate for a casino. This tax revenue to the community could really help.”
Ford’s measure also would allow Rising Star Casino Resort to relocate its 750 unused positions to a Vigo County location, a long-sought goal of the casino’s owner, Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts Inc.
Full House Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Alex Stolyar said, “We applaud Senator Messmer’s and Senator Ford’s commitment to providing a level playing field for Indiana casino operators to compete for a supplemental gaming facility in Terre Haute. We encourage the legislature to establish a competitive process for a new casino that maximizes economic development for Indiana. Terre Haute wants a casino. Indiana deserves a fair and competitive process.”
Ford said the goal of his legislation isn’t to bring two casinos to Terre Haute but to provide multiple options. Observers said mostly like a final version of his bill would allow the Gary license to move there or Rising Star to move its positions there—but not both. “I think there will be a debate about which philosophy is better. At the end of the day, my goal has been to bring a casino to Terre Haute,” Ford said.
Melton’s bill would allow Majestic Star to relocate to a land-based site in Gary and permit its second gaming license to be sold to the operator of a casino located at least 100 miles from Gary. A portion of that sale would go toward a multimodal transportation hub at Buffington Harbor. In addition, 20 percent of the adjusted gross receipts at the second-license casino would be paid to Gary for 20 years—even if the license is moved to Terre Haute.
Observers reportedly derided the notion that any casino operator would be willing to kick back 20 percent of receipts for two decades to a city located nowhere near their casino. And Thomas McDermott Jr., mayor of Hammond, Lake County’s largest city, host of Horseshoe Hammond, the state’s largest casino, said Melton’s legislation would significantly change the rules for gaming in Indiana and could cause casino companies to think twice about investing in their properties. “Just the fact that we’re having this discussion is killing our industry. Eddie Melton should be ashamed of himself. It’s a selfish bill. It’s clearly, ‘We’re taking care of Gary and we’re screwing everybody else,'” he said.
McDermott added there’s no money to develop an intermodal facility at Gary and no transportation companies have expressed interest in locating there. He also stated Gary has the most poorly maintained casinos in Northwest Indiana. “This is all a ruse so they can do something they’ve wanted to do for a long time, which is move the casinos out of Buffington Harbor. They’ve squandered this opportunity so badly that now we have to change the rules and screw over the communities that have done well,” he said. “Melton is saying, ‘We will study, after we take your money and we will study how much money we took from you.’”
In response, Melton said he only wants to make sure that a new Gary casino succeeds and that the second license is given its best possible use where it could do the most good for Gary. “I’m starting a discussion in terms of what’s the best approach and mechanisms for the city, the region and the state to win from a holistic economic development opportunity,” Melton said.
Ed Feigenbaum, editor of Indiana Gaming Insight, said, “Anything that takes money away makes something less attractive, but keeping 80 percent of something that didn’t exist before is better than nothing.” Still, he said, “Everything is negotiable. You throw in all kinds of stuff at the beginning and kind of see what sticks. Everything there is a bargaining chip.”
Ford’s and Messmer’s bill also would allow racinos to add live-dealer table games this year. Legislators in 2015 approved a measure allowing the racetrack-casinos Indiana Grand in Shelbyville and Harrah’s Hoosier Park in Anderson to add live-dealer table games starting in 2021. Currently the racinos offer slot machines and electronic table games. A bill filed in 2017 that would have allowed the live games that year failed without a committee hearing. “We can take advantage of the tax revenue it would generate. There’s really no reason to hold off,” Ford said.