Senate panel votes to legalize sports betting, move Gary casino to Terre Haute

A key Senate panel approved gambling legislation Thursday that will legalize sports wagering, let horse-track casinos add table games this year and allow two Gary casinos to move out of Buffington Harbor on Lake Michigan—one to a nearby interstate site and the other to Terre Haute.

Senate Bill 552, authored by Republican Sens. Mark Messmer of Jasper and Jon Ford of Terre Haute, now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill after making changes that included eliminating subsidies that would paid to casinos that might lose business after the Gary casinos move and nixing a competitive process to determine which casino operator would set up shop in Terre Haute.

Spectacle Entertainment—a company founded by some of the same investors that operated Centaur before it was purchased by Caesars Entertainment—is in the process of buying Gary-based Majestic Star Casino I and Majestic Star Casino. It has said it wants to move one of the casinos to the Interstate 80/94 corridor and the other to Terre Haute.

The original bill would have required Spectacle to bid against other casinos that wanted to move unused gambling “positions" from their existing casinos to Terre Haute. The state caps the number of gambling positions at each location but some casinos fall under the number.

At least one other casino operator—Rising Star’s owner, Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts Inc.—had expressed interest.

But the committee removed that provision on Thursday. Under the amended bill, only Spectacle would be able to open a casino in Terre Haute.

Messmer said Senate Appropriations Chairman Ryan Mishler had indicated that changed needed to happen before the bill would have enough support to pass the committee.

Messmer said he hopes to re-insert the competitive process into the bill when it's considered by the full Senate on Monday or when it moves to the House.

Alex Stolyar, chief development officer and senior vice president for Full House Resorts, opposed the change during Thursday’s meeting. “All I’m saying is let us compete for Terre Haute,” Stolyar said.

The committee also removed other provisions in the bill that were meant to alleviate the concerns of other casino operators and their communities that the relocated Gary casinos could reduce their traffic and revenues.

The legislation would have given Hammond and East Chicago extra revenue in an attempt to offset any losses. And it would have required a Terre Haute casino operator to pay $6 million to the city of Evansville and $3 million annually to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to help fund preservation and maintenance of West Baden Springs Hotel, which part of the French Lick Casino Resort complex.

All of those provisions were eliminated on Thursday, but Messmer indicated after the hearing that he hopes to add those back into the bill, too.

The bill does still require any casino operator in Terre Haute to pay the Indiana Horse Racing Commission $2 million that would be distributed to breed development funds, but the amended version ends that payment on July 1, 2022.

The committee also amended and approved a bill that would have allowed one of Gary's two casinos to relocate anywhere in the state, instead of only to Vigo County.

Senate Bill 66, authored by Mishler, originally would have allowed a Gary casino to move any place in the state. But it would changed Thursday to specify it could move only to Vigo County.

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