By: Giavonni Nickson
Governor Eric Holcomb signed into law a historic bill that opens the door to Indiana’s first new casinos in a decade. The gaming bill, House Enrolled Act (HEA 1015) impacts economic development opportunities in Gary, Northwest Indiana, and the rest of the state.
The new law allows Spectacle Entertainment, which owns Gary’s Majestic Star casinos, to build a new facility near the Borman Expressway. The gaming bill also clears a path for a new casino in Terre Haute and will potentially allow gambling in every Indiana community by legalizing sports wagering, including online and mobile.
“I am pleased that the governor chose to sign this monumental bill into law,” said State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Gary) regarding the governor’s signing of the bill. “The impact it will have on Gary, Northwest Indiana as well as the entire state is widespread, and I look forward to the historic changes that will take place.”
Spectacle Entertainment has a $300 million land-based casino development plan to construct a new boutique casino which includes a unique and inviting casino floor, 200-room hotel, parking garage, meeting rooms, entertainment options, restaurants, and lounges along the Interstate 80/94 corridor. This construction sparks potential for restaurants, retail shops, or movie theater development surrounding the new casino.
“This is something our community has been working on for over a decade, and with this signature, hundreds of Hoosiers will find employment,” said Melton. The new and more optimally located casino will bring at least 400 new gaming jobs in addition to the casino’s current 800-job count.
Project development alone will create new construction job opportunities.
Melton is working to create a workforce development strategy to ensure that Gary residents and those who live in the surrounding area have access to new jobs presented by the casino’s new site development.
Shifting gaming operations from Buffington Harbor opens up growth opportunities in Gary. The Interim Study Committee on Commerce and Economic Development reviewed the assets of the Buffington Harbor area and determined that there was merit in the creation of an intermodal hub. Buffington Harbor, a logical location for that industrial development, will create an intermodal facility along the lakefront and bring accessory development for businesses related to shipping and logistics.
“Gary now has the opportunity to become an intermodal gateway for the United States,” Melton said.
In the U.S., spread across 43 states, commercial and tribal casino operators and gaming suppliers provide diverse career opportunities, a diversified tax base, and a broad set of entertainment options. Gaming tax revenue funds local city and county governments as well as Indiana’s horse racing industry.
According to the American Gaming Association’s States Gaming By The Numbers March 2019 report, Indiana receives $1.3 billion in annual tax revenue from gaming for all levels of government.
Spectacle Entertainment would pay the state a $20 million fee but then receive a $40 million tax credit for surrendering one of two gaming licenses in Gary.
“Gaming is a highly regulated industry that once had little competition, but now does, from surrounding states and new technology,” said Governor Eric Holcomb. “By modernizing our laws, this legislation will spur positive economic growth for our state and for an industry that employs over 11,000 Hoosiers.”
New jobs creation is an integral part of Gary’s revitalization plan.
“Additionally,” said Holcomb, “It will bring in new revenue and create hundreds of new jobs both permanent and in construction. I will direct the Indiana Gaming Commission to monitor for potential effects of this bill so that we can make necessary changes in future legislative sessions.”
The Senate passed the bill 37-12, and the House passed the bill 59-36. Before it passed the House and Senate, legislators restored hold harmless provisions to the gaming bill. Those provisions aim to help ensure other communities with casinos that could be negatively affected by the bill’s changes are financially compensated. Because of the provision, East Chicago, Hammond, and Michigan City will receive compensation if their share of local revenues declines with the opening of the new Gary casino.
French Lick and Evansville will also get compensation if the Terre Haute facility opens.
Casinos in southeastern Indiana have been left out of the hold harmless provisions, which stirred protest from area lawmakers.
Aside from potential financial compensation for neighboring cities, the bill included provisions that support displaced workers. Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, added a provision that would give casino workers who might lose their jobs because of the new Gary casino a chance to transfer to that facility. The bulk of this landmark bill becomes effective July 1.