INDIANAPOLIS -- A casino and sports gambling bill is largely back to its original form ahead of a final vote today in the Indiana Senate.

The chamber is scheduled to act today on Senate Bill 552, a measure to let Gary's two casinos relocate, one to another city — likely Terre Haute — and allow wagering on college and professional sports.

In voice votes Monday, the Senate approved an amendment from sponsoring Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, to restore provisions removed last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Of primary interest to the Wabash Valley and southwestern Indiana are competitive bidding for a casino license that would move out of Gary and language ensuring Evansville and the French Lick Casino and Resort would not be financially harmed by new competition.

So-called “hold harmless” provisions would require the licensee of a Vigo County casino to pay $1.5 million per year for three years to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for maintenance of the historic West Baden Springs Hotel and $2.7 million over three years to the city of Evansville.

Sens. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, and Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, added “hold harmless” amendments to protect the casino cities of Hammond, East Chicago and Michigan City from the effects of competition by a new, larger Gary casino that would move inland from Lake Michigan under terms of SB 552.

Messmer and Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, also an author of the bill, said the revisions put the legislation in a good position for passage.

“We went back to make some compromises and as the legislation passes we're going to continue to compromise on it,” said Ford.

Hold harmless provisions “were important to a lot of folks in our caucus so we put them back in,” he said.

“We've done a pretty good job of trying to be collaborative from day one in discussions on the bill and how to take all of those areas impacted by these re-locations (into consideration), said Messmer.

Even with the competitive bidding provision, the license holder of the Gary casino will probably have “a slight advantage,” Messmer added.

“I think by having that be competitive, Terre Haute will get a better package, Vigo County will get a better package and the state of Indiana will get a better package,” he said. 

The bill retains a provision that the license relocated out of Gary must set up shop at least 75 miles from an existing casino, Messmer noted.

Spectacle Entertainment, a new company that includes Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson as a partner, is seeking to acquire the licenses of Gary's two casinos.

Another option remains

Also Monday, the Senate approved two minor amendments to Senate Bill 66, a measure that also allows the Gary casinos to move but still requires one license to go to Vigo County.

Sens. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, Eddie Melton, D-Gary, and Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, are authors of that bill, which emerged just two weeks ago.

A third bill dealing with casinos, Senate Bill 636, authored by Melton, did not receive a committee hearing and is no longer under consideration. That bill would have required the operator of a casino relocated from Gary to send 20 percent of the facility's adjusted gross receipts to Gary for 20 years. Melton is a co-author of SB 522.

© 2019 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.