Terre Haute would get casino as House committee approves gambling expansion

By Emily Ketterer
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS –– Amendments to a bill that expands gambling in Indiana cuts in half the price tag to move two Gary casinos inland and creates a competitive bidding process for a new Terre Haute casino license.

Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers and co-chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, amended Senate Bill 552 Tuesday to lower the original price of $100 million to $50 million to move the Gary casinos. The bill passed out of the committee by a 17-6 margin.

The two casinos are owned by Spectacle Entertainment and located on Lake Michigan. Under the bill, they are permitted to move inland but the owner has to give up one of the gaming licenses, in effect forcing the two casinos to merge.

Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, authored an amendment to the gaming bill to create a separate casino license for Terre Haute, but interested companies will have to bid to purchase the license. Photo by Emily Kettterer, TheStatehouseFile.com

“If they want to move, that action can only happen with us taking action,” Huston said. “And there is a value to that move. They wouldn’t be moving if there wasn’t a value.”

If Spectacle decides to open a new one inland closer to the interstate, the company will be allowed to have 2,674 gaming positions––an increase from the 1,684 positions at the two current casinos. This would potentially make the Gary casino the largest in Indiana.

Indiana currently has 11 casinos and two horse-racing casinos. Depending on whether Spectacle moves, the number of casinos could grow to 12 or 13 under the legislation with a new Terre Haute location.

Before the bill was amended Tuesday, Terre Haute would have only gotten the license to build a new casino if Spectacle gave up its second Gary license. Now, Huston’s amendment creates a separate license for Terre Haute and it includes a twist––companies will have to bid on the license.

“We’ve separated the Terre Haute discussion from the Spectacle discussion,” Huston said. “If the operator in Gary wants to move, that’s their decision based upon the parameters that we provide within the legislation.”

The legislation will create a Vigo County advisory board to consider company candidates and choose three to participate in the competitive bidding. The process will also work with two bidders, but Huston said there has to be more than one candidate chosen or the selection process has to start over.

The minimum bid is $25 million, which Huston said is a good number to start at based on what he’s heard.

Another provision of the massive bill is the legalization of sports gambling, which has virtually passed through the General Assembly with little discussion from the public or lawmakers. The amended bill will now levy a 9.5 percent tax rate on sports bets starting in September. Mobile sports betting is not included in the legislation.

Democrats proposed a number of amendments in committee and most were shut down, including proposals to provide more financial support to the surrounding Gary communities that may be negatively affected by the casino’s expansion.

On sports gambling, Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, offered an amendment to protect college athletes. Pryor said with sports wagering being legal, people may be betting a lot of money on students, and she proposed a portion of tax money from the bets go to the student athletes who are injured to help pay for insurance. The amendment was rejected along party lines.

“Everybody is going to make money off these kids,” Pryor said. “We need to figure out a way to help these students.”

The bill advances to the House for further action.

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

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