Terre Haute casino could keep Hoosiers gambling in Indiana, supporters say

A bill that would allow a new casino to open in Terre Haute could help keep Indiana gamblers from going to Illinois to spend their money, supporters said Wednesday.

Senate Bill 354 would let Rising Star Casino Resort in Southern Indiana’s Ohio County move 740 gaming positions to Terre Haute.

Alex Stolyar, chief development officer at Full House Resorts Inc., which owns Rising Star, said the proposed casino would be a “timely opportunity” for Indiana to expand its gambling market in an area previously left out of the state’s casino market.

Illinois lawmakers are considering an expansion of gambling that would put casinos in six locations, including Danville, Illinois, which is about an hour north of Terre Haute and just over the western Indiana border, Stolyar said.

During a meeting of the Senate Public Policy Committee, Stolyar played a clip from an Illinois legislative meeting in which lawmakers were discussing a market study about the incoming casinos planned for the state. In the clip, the lawmakers said 65 percent of the revenue in the new Danville location would come from Indiana—not Illinois—gamblers.

“We’re looking to invest in Indiana, not neighboring states,” Stolyar said. “It’s going to give about $10 million a year to the city of Terre Haute, in addition to the jobs it’s going to create.”

The committee heard testimony from several supporters and one opponent of the proposed casino Wednesday but did not vote.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, who is serving in his third term, said the bill would promote employment and economic development in the city, and would make up for the jobs and revenue lost from the closing of manufacturing businesses in the area. Supporters said the casino could create more than 1,000 new direct and indirect jobs.

Only Justin Groenert, director of public policy and government relations for the Southwest Indiana Chamber, testified against the bill. He said Evansville officials are concerned about competition for the city’s Tropicano casino.

Stolyar argued the Terre Haute casino would have “minimal impact” on other Indiana casinos and neighboring areas. He said the location is distant from existing casinos but will be able to capture gambling revenue from out-of-state casinos.

However, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency estimates that 43 percent of gambling revenue at a Terre Haute casino would be displaced from other Indiana casinos. “It is estimated that a substantial portion of that will impact the central Indiana racinos, French Lick casino, and Tropicana casino at Evansville,” the report said.

According to a fiscal analysis provided by Stolyar, the proposed casino would have an estimated $3 million impact on Hoosier Park operations in Anderson and a $5.7 million impact on Indiana Grand in Shelbyville.

The bill doesn’t require Rising Star to pay anything to those slot-only, race-track casinos. Stolyar said that’s because the racinos will be allowed to use live dealers at table games starting in 2021.

The bill does require Rising Star to pay $3 million per year into the French Lick Resort’s historic hotel preservation and maintenance fund for five years to offset the impact of a casino in Terre Haute.

French Lick is a 2.5-hour drive from the proposed Terre Haute location, but the Orange County casino draws many of its customers from Bloomington and Indianapolis. Those areas would be part of the Terre Haute casino’s market as well.

If approved, the Terre Haute casino could open by 2019.

This isn’t Full House Resorts’ and Rising Star’s first attempt at shifting gambling positions to another location. A few years ago, Rising Star proposed moving gambling positions to the Indianapolis area. The plan was part of an upscale, boutique casino, hotel and retail center presented to the Indiana Airport Authority, said Ed Feigenbaum, editor of Indiana Gaming Insight.

The airport authority did not choose the proposal.

Feigenbaum said the Terre Haute proposal is Rising Sun’s attempt to—literally and figuratively—keep its casino business in Indiana afloat.

Revenue at the Rising Sun location is roughly $50 million a year, a third of the revenue it generated in the years after it opened, thanks in part to competition from newer casinos in Ohio.

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