HAMMOND — A unanimous City Council passed a resolution Monday night asking state authorities to transfer one of Majestic Star Casino’s two gaming licenses to the city.
The development follows Gary’s announced plans to relocate its casino, if it obtains state approval, to make way for development of Buffington Harbor into an intermodal transport hub.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. told members a unified front from the council would send a strong message to the governor, General Assembly and the Gaming Commission that Gary’s second gaming license should end up in Hammond.
With the state’s largest grossing casino, Horseshoe Casino, Hammond is the state’s “biggest gaming city," in terms of population, and deserves that license, McDermott said.
McDermott said he is all for allowing Gary to relocate its casino from Buffington Harbor to a land-based location, but only if Hammond gets its hands on the other license.
“If we allow them to start changing casinos around and relocating casinos, they could take away our competitive advantage. … Why are we are allowing them to change the rules without kicking and screaming?” McDermott asked council members during a caucus meeting before the floor vote.
McDermott made a similar pitch in 2012. Officials in Terre Haute, Portage and elsewhere have expressed interest in the second license.
"Let's be the first one out," McDermott said.
The resolution passed Monday essentially states the Indiana Gaming Commission issued two gaming licenses for casinos in Gary in 1994 and to this day, Gary's Majestic Star continues to operates on two licenses, a remnant of a time when the two current Majestic Star boats had different owners.
The law was later expanded to allow for 10 riverboat casinos, including Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, the successor to the Empress Casino that opened in 1998.
In 2015, state lawmakers approved further expansion and permitted land-based casinos.
Due to a transfer of ownership from Trump casino, Majestic Star now holds both gaming licenses, one of which cannot be transferred or sold without a change in Indiana law.
Councilman Pete Torres, D-2nd, said a second casino could bring much-needed new development to the city such as hotels and retail shops.
Councilman Anthony Higgs, D-3rd, said a second casino would also generate revenue for the city, with tax caps in full force come 2020.
The ordinance sponsor, Councilman Dave Woerpel, D-5th, said several cities and towns in Indiana will be clamoring for this license.
He likened it to the Amazon headquarters bid.
“It would be irresponsible of us to sit here and not say ‘Hey we want that,’” Woerpel said.