The Indiana House recently passed the sweeping gambling bill SB 552 in a 78-15 vote. The measure now heads to a conference committee before being presented to Governor Eric Holcomb for his signature or veto.
The bill was authored by state Senators Jon Ford and Mark Messmer. Following the vote, Ford said, “I would like to see the bill come out of the conference committee closer to what was in the Senate. I think we will work out something. We passed a big hurdle and are alive for another day. I think we will work something out where Terre Haute will have an opportunity” for a casino.
Ford’s original legislation was written to allow one of Gary-based Majestic Casino’s two licenses to move inland and the other to relocate to Terre Haute in Vigo County. But, after revamp in the House Ways and Means Committee, the bill would require a public referendum in November or May 2020 allowing Vigo County voters to determine if they want a casino. If the issue passes, a Vigo County casino advisory board would be created to evaluate casino proposals. The board would then forward its recommendations to the Indiana Gaming Commission, which would select the top three proposals and start an auction process with a minimum bid of $25 million. The highest of the three would be awarded the license.
Spectacle Entertainment, Majestic Casino’s new owner, would be allowed to compete for the Vigo County license. Las Vegas-based Full House, which operates the Rising Star Casino and Resort in Rising Sun, Indiana, also has expressed interest in a Terre Haute-area casino.
Spectacle would be allowed to move the other Lake Michigan casino to downtown Gary. The new facility would be allowed to have 2,700 gaming positions, up from 1,700 at the two existing casinos. Also, Spectacle would pay the state $50 million to move the casino off the lake.
Spectacle Entertainment attorney John Keeler said, “On behalf of Spectacle, we are very pleased with the vote total. I think everybody recognizes the bill will be changed a lot in conference committee and we are just hoping to have some input in that process and that what evolves turns out to be a good product. I think there has been some posturing between the two houses in terms of setting up the dynamics for a good negotiation.” He added, “We would love to come and make an investment in Terre Haute that we think would be good for the community and the state as well.”
Spectacle’s leading partners are Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson and Rod Ratcliff, former chief executive officer and chairman at Centaur Gaming. After it was revealed by the IndyStar that Ratcliff had hours of exclusive access to Holcomb when he flew the governor to out-of-state meetings last year on his private plane, lawmakers added an amendment to SB 552 limiting Holcomb’s ability to meet with casino executives. Ratcliff has been promoting changes the state’s gaming laws that would benefit his casino acquisitions.
Holcomb’s campaign treasurer, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer, said the flights were “perfectly legal and customary.”
SB 552 also would legalize sports wagering at casinos, racinos and satellite facilities. The Senate version, passed in February, would allow mobile betting but the House removed that provision. Senators have indicated they want mobile wagering to be reinstated in the legislation in conference committee.
Under SB 552, sports betting would be regulated by the Indiana Gaming Commission and taxed at 9.5 percent with revenue going to the state’s general fund.
Ford said discussion over the legislation is likely to go on until the last moment. “It depends on the appetite of folks to negotiate. I think this will be the second-to-last bill we pass this session. It will be this, then the budget. It will probably go right up until midnight or so on April 25 unless things go better than I think,” he said.