Possible casino: A state analysis estimates 800,000 to 1.1 million people would visit a proposed Vigo County casino annually, generating $85 million to $105 million in adjusted gross receipts each year. This conceptual artist’s rendering shows a possible Spectacle Entertainment casino on Terre Haute’s east side next to a Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel. Spectacle says they are just sketches to illustrate the potential casino and are not site-specific plans. Submitted rendering
Possible casino: A state analysis estimates 800,000 to 1.1 million people would visit a proposed Vigo County casino annually, generating $85 million to $105 million in adjusted gross receipts each year. This conceptual artist’s rendering shows a possible Spectacle Entertainment casino on Terre Haute’s east side next to a Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel. Spectacle says they are just sketches to illustrate the potential casino and are not site-specific plans. Submitted rendering
A state analysis estimates 800,000 to 1.1 million people would visit a proposed Vigo County casino annually, generating $85 million to $105 million in adjusted gross receipts each year.

The numbers come from a fiscal impact statement released this week by the Indiana Legislative Services Agency for Senate Bill 552. The bill would allow a casino in Terre Haute by moving an existing license, possibly from Gary, while permitting a second Gary casino to relocate inland from an existing site on Lake Michigan. It would also legalize sports gambling at casinos.

In 2017, the last time legislation was introduced for a Terre Haute casino, the agency projected 800,000 annual visitors and adjusted receipts of $75 million to $88 million. 

The current estimate “more or less syncs up” with October 2016 projections from Full House Resorts of $100.5 million in revenues, said Alex Stolyar, the company's senior vice president and chief development officer.

Full House, as it did two years ago, is eyeing Terre Haute for a casino. It would like to move unused gaming positions from its casino in Rising Sun, Indiana. 

A new company, Spectacle Entertainment, co-owned by Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson, is seeking to purchase the licenses of two casinos in Gary and move one elsewhere, possibly to Terre Haute.

The state analysis projects increases in state revenues of $17.5 million in fiscal 2020 and $23.6 million in fiscal 2021 as a result of the largest increase in legalized gambling in a generation. 

However, it says the impact on local tax receipts from a casino relocating to Vigo County is “indeterminable.”

No one from the agency responded Wednesday to a request for comment. Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said Wednesday local government will receive about $5 million per year in admissions tax revenue but “solid” estimates cannot be made because the legislation may change.

Terre Haute and Vigo County would also receive more in property taxes, food and beverage taxes and the innkeepers' tax, the mayor and the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce have said.

Spectacle Entertainment's proposed Terre Haute casino would be a $100 million investment and would create between 300 and 400 jobs. Full House proposes a $150 million investment to include a hotel and up to 750 jobs.

Awaiting the next step

There had been some expectation SB 552 would be heard this week in the Senate Appropriations Committee following unanimous endorsement last week by the Public Policy Committee. However, a date has yet to be set for further action.

The complex 81-page measure, authored by Sens. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, and Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, includes a number of provisions to hold existing casinos and the horse racing industry harmless from the effects of new competition.

It eliminates a two-license cap on riverboat owners as well as a ceiling on the number of slot machines and table games at race track casinos. It also moves up the time for live dealers at race track venues and increases from $7 million per year to $9 million per year the amount of free play permitted at casinos.

The bill also requires the operator of a Terre Haute casino to send $11 million elsewhere. The distribution includes $6 million to the city of Evansville, $3 million to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for preservation of the historic hotel at the French Lick Casino Resort and $2 million to the Indiana Horse Racing Commission.

In addition, the measure repeals a restriction on the use of funds provided to a horsemen's association from being used for lobbying.

Sports gambling

That Senate Bill 552 would legalize sports gambling is no surprise to Chip Taylor, associate professor of political science at Ball State University, though polls have found up to half of Hoosiers opposed.

“Public opinion is only one of many influences on legislators' decisions, and I'm not aware of any organized opposition,” said Taylor, managing director of the university's Bowen Center for Public Affairs.

“A large number of people can be opposed to a policy but not have an intense enough interest in the issue to actively oppose it,” he added. “This ... leaves organizations with economic interests in the policy more latitude to influence the policy outcomes.”

The Old National Bank/Ball State University 2018 Hoosier Survey Policy Poll, released in November, found 50 percent of Indiana residents interviewed oppose sports betting and 37 percent in favor. The telephone poll of 604 adults covered a wide range of issues. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.1 percent. 

A poll of 840 Indianapolis area residents by the IUPUI Sports Innovation Institute, also in 2018, found 46.4 percent of respondents opposed and 27.6 percent in favor.

The institute partnered with Qualtrics to find an online sample of respondents. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Neither Messmer nor Ford responded to a request for comment early this week. But Ford said at the most recent crackerbarrel session at the Vigo County Public Library a casino could help spur further development in Terre Haute.

"In Vigo County we spent a long time chasing smokestacks, trying to bring manufacturing back to the area" Ford said. "And for whatever reason, we weren't successful.

"Part of that, I think, is that we haven't had the resources or the revenue to go out and compete with Fort Wayne, Evansville or Elkhart, the places that keep getting these manufacturing opportunities.”

Ford has expressed optimism the casino/sports wagering bill will clear the Senate.

At the same event, state Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, said she supports a referendum, as the bill now requires. Pfaff said the legislation is one of the most talked about issues at the Statehouse and she expects a “big battle” in the House.

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) has critiqued the plan as “a very large expansion of gambling.”

Tribune-Star report Alex Modesitt contributed to this report, as did The Associated Press. 

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