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Bill could allow one Gary casino to move anywhere in state

February 13, 2019

One of Gary's two casinos could be allowed to relocate anywhere in the state, instead of only to Vigo County, under legislation unveiled this week at the Indiana General Assembly.

New language in Senate Bill 66, which was previously a vehicle bill, would allow the owner of Majestic Star Casino I and Majestic Star Casino II—soon to be Spectacle Entertainment—to relocate one casino inland in Gary and move the other one somewhere else in the state. 

The Indiana Gaming Commission would be responsible for approving the new location outside of Gary.

Spectacle Entertainment is a new company led by some of the same individuals who controlled Indianapolis-based Centaur Gaming before it was bought by Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. The company is in the process of acquiring Majestic Star and Majestic Star II. Since the acquisition was announced in November, Spectacle has said it’s interested in relocating the casinos.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ryan Mishler is the author of SB 66, which is scheduled to be heard by his committee on Thursday.

The bill is much different from the casino language drafted by Jasper Republican Mark Messmer in SB 552, which would also allow one casino to relocate in Gary, but the second casino license would be confined to moving to Vigo County (where Terre Haute is located). Other casinos would be allowed to compete for the opportunity to open a facility there with unused gambling “positions" from their existing casinos. The state caps the number of gambling positions at each location, but some casinos fall under the number.

That’s something Rising Star’s owner, Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts Inc., has expressed interest in and has previously tried to receive permission to do.`

Messmer has said creating the competitive bidding process would make sure Terre Haute, which has been pushing to get a casino for years, gets the best possible proposal. The Indiana Gaming Commission would be responsible for reviewing the proposals and selecting the winner.

Messmer previously told IBJ that no other city in the state had requested a casino and no other city was being considered for it.

Mishler said Messmer’s bill, which passed the Senate Public Policy Committee but still needs approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee, will still be heard, but he expects the language regarding the Gary casino licenses to end up similar in both bills.

“It really comes down to whether we say it’s Terre Haute or not,” Mishler said. “If we end up naming where it goes, I mean that's fine. I just didn’t want to go that far.”

Under Messmer’s proposal, it’s unclear what would happen to the second license in Gary if Spectacle was not selected by the Gaming Commission for the Terre Haute location. Even though Majestic Star and Majestic Star II are considered separate entities and have two licenses attached to them, the casinos operate as one on Buffington Harbor.

Technically, Spectacle could still operate two casinos in Gary, but it could not open a new casino in another city without approval from the state. John Keeler, general counsel for Spectacle, did not immediately return a phone call from IBJ. 

“There was no guarantee when they purchased it that anything would change,” Messmer previously told IBJ.

Whatever happens with the location of the second license, Mishler said it’s property of Spectacle, assuming the acquisition is finalized.

“We control where it goes, but we don’t own it,” Mishler said. “Somebody paid for that. We can’t take it away… If the owner of the license doesn’t like where they have to go, they could sell it to somebody who does.”

Regardless of where the casinos end up relocating, Gary officials are pushing to get the gaming boats out of the harbor, which they want to open up to become a logistics and transportation hub.

A bill filed by Gary Democrat Eddie Melton aimed to address the issue by allowing the casinos to move and creating a local port authority. Mishler’s bill also focuses on the issue, but instead of a port commission, it creates the Trans-Modal Compact that would oversee development around the harbor, rail line and Gary/Chicago International Airport.

“Instead of doing each individual project, this compact can do all of that,” Mishler said.

Melton said he has been working with Mishler on his bill and hopes to make some changes to who is appointed to the compact. As drafted, it would include seven members, with two appointed by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and five state officials either directly or indirectly appointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

“We’re still in the negotiation phases…. he’s expressed that this initial version is preliminary,” Melton said. “We’re headed in the right direction.”

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