Moments before approval: Members of the House Ways and Means Committee discuss amendments to Senate Bill 552 just before voting to approve it on Tuesday at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. The gaming bill, which could bring a casino to Terre Haute, cleared committee by a vote of 17-6 and now heads to the full House.  Tribune Star/Joseph C. Garza

Moments before approval: Members of the House Ways and Means Committee discuss amendments to Senate Bill 552 just before voting to approve it on Tuesday at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. The gaming bill, which could bring a casino to Terre Haute, cleared committee by a vote of 17-6 and now heads to the full House. Tribune Star/Joseph C. Garza

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A bill that could put a casino in Terre Haute cleared the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday and now heads to the full House.

The most notable change is the creation of a new, independent gaming license for Vigo County. 

Senate Bill 552, as amended, moved forward by a vote of 17-6.

Amendment 93 from Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, brings sweeping changes to the legislation. Among other things, it:

• Creates a license for an inland casino in Vigo County;

• Requires a public question to be added to either the 2019 general or 2020 primary ballot.

• Requires, if the referendum passes, formation of a gambling advisory board in Vigo County. The board would consist of the Terre Haute mayor, a Vigo County commissioner, the president of the Vigo County Capitol Improvement Board, a Chamber of Commerce appointee and a member appointed by the governor.

• Lowers a relocation fee for a Gary, Indiana, casino license from $100 million to $50 million;

Huston said that no matter what Spectacle Entertainment does with its Gary casinos, as the legislation is currently written, Vigo County would have to opportunity to vote for an inland casino via referendum.

The question, “Shall inland casino gambling be permitted in Vigo County,” would be on either the Nov. 5, 2019 municipal general or May 5, 2020 primary election ballots.

If the referendum were to pass, legislation would require the formation of a Vigo County casino advisory board. The board will be responsible for evaluating proposals to operate a casino in Vigo County.

The board would then forward its recommendations to the Indiana Gaming Commission. The commission would select the top three proposals and open an “auction process.”

The auction would be at an advertised meeting of the gaming commission and would see each of the finalists submit one bid. The highest of the three would be awarded the license. It requires a minimum bid of $25 million.

Spectacle Entertainment would be free to compete for the Vigo County license.

Overall, Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, said the changes made to SB 552 were in its best interest as it move toward the House floor for second reading. 

“It was a good hearing. I think there was some good language added that continues to support Terre Haute and its efforts,” said Ford, who authored the bill with Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper.

“I think keeping the referendum in was important for all of us in Vigo County and the creation of an advisory board is a net positive,” Ford said.

Ford also supported the creation of a separate license for a Vigo casino, saying it opens the process in a way that gets more involved.

“This is going to be a very fair process,” Ford said. “It lets the community get involved and lets the free market decide” who operates the casino.

With the creation of a new license and Spectacle being able to use the 2,764 the gaming positions associated with its licenses — regardless of if they have surrender one license to the state — has some questioning Huston as to whether this now represents a clear expansion of casino gaming in Indiana.

Huston seemed said everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

“Well, as I’ve said before, that term expansion is used in a lot of different ways,” Huston said. “But we are going to allow the operation of a casino in Terre Haute.

“… It’s really in the eye of the beholder. And I respect both opinions on it.”

Spectacle Gaming LLC this year acquired the two Majestic Star casino licenses, which now operate on a Gary, Indiana, harbor of Lake Michigan. It’s leading partners are Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson and Rod Ratcliff, former CEO and chairman of Centaur Gaming.

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