Terre Haute casino bill dies after split vote

By Ashley Shuler
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — A bill that would allow a new casino to open in Terre Haute was killed in committee after a split vote Wednesday.

Half of the public policy committee voted against the bill, splitting the vote 5-5. Bills need a majority vote to advance out of committee.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, explains his vote against Senate Bill 354. He said casino laws in Indiana are complicated, like a Swiss clock—if legislators move one piece of it, it has to be in line with the rest of the system to work. Photo by Ashley Shuler, TheStatehouseFile.com

Senate Bill 354 would have let Rising Star Casino Resort in southern Indiana’s Ohio County move 740 gaming positions to a new location in Terre Haute.

Senators who voted against the new casino said it would put other casinos in the state at a disadvantage competitively and allow a new casino to do business without paying a large licensing fee, among other factors.

Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, who chairs the committee, said he didn’t feel comfortable supporting a bill that has an unknown effect on the rest of the state’s economy.

“Is it good public policy for the city of Terre Haute? Absolutely,” he said. “Is it good public policy for the casino that’s looking to move machines to Terre Haute? Absolutely. Is it good public policy for the state? I don’t know.”

Senators Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville; Tim Lanane, D-Anderson; Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis; and Greg Taylor, D-Indiana, also voted against the bill.

Becker explained her vote against the bill during committee, saying allowing this casino would hurt her community and Tropicana’s casino investment in Evansville.

“I think it really sets a terrible precedent,” she said. “It benefits one specific company at the expense of others.”

Senators Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville; Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis; Mark Messmer, R-Jasper; Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago; and Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, who authored the bill, voted in favor of the casino.

Ford said he’s disappointed his bill didn’t make it out of committee.

“I believe this legislation would have a positive impact on the Terre Haute community,” Ford said in a statement. “I’m glad we started this conversation, and I will continue to advocate for ways to boost our local economy and bring more jobs to Terre Haute.”

Randolph voted ‘yes’ for the games to be moved to Terre Haute, saying it would give possibility and hope to the cities in his northwest Indiana area.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett previously said that the bill 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.

Alex Stolyar, chief development officer at Full House Resorts Inc., which owns Rising Star, previously 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 across the western Indiana border, Stolyar said.

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.

A supporter of the casino wears a “Terre Haute is ready” sticker. The bill failed to move beyond committee with a tie 5-5 vote Wednesday. Photo by Ashley Shuler, TheStatehouseFile.com

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

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.

Although the bill has now died, this wasn’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 was 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, in part because of competition from newer casinos in Ohio.

Ashley Shuler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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