igo County voters passed a referendum last Tuesday that will allow for the construction of western Indiana’s first casino in Terre Haute, Indiana. The proposition passed with a 63% margin.
Two casino companies have expressed interest in the project, with one touting a project of at least $100 million that would have 300 to 400 workers. They have until Dec. 1 to submit proposals to the Indiana Gaming Commission, which would select an operator for the license.
State Sen. Jon Ford of Terre Haute, one of the authors of the legislation that made a casino license possible for Vigo County, said he was pleased. "I think it was a solid vote that shows Terre Haute was ready for this opportunity, and I'm very happy about the outcome," he said,as reported by Tribune Star.
A positive vote for the casino speaks well not only for economic opportunity, but for the approach of a unified community, the Republican state senator said. "The community came up during [the legislative] session and continued to work hard all summer and fall, and I think it sends a solid message to the rest of the state that Terre Haute is open for business, [and] we are working to together to move the community forward, he said.
Ford added there were others who would have made a run at landing a casino had Vigo County not moved aggressively. "There's no doubt that had we not seized this opportunity, other communities in Indiana were ready to come after this license," he said.
Brian Kooistra, co-chair of the Advance West Central Indiana political action committee that backed the casino referendum, agreed. "This has truly been a team effort," he said, citing more than two years of involvement by legislators, Mayor Duke Bennett of Terre Haute, Vigo County officials, the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, Advance West Central Indiana and others.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett concurred: "We really pulled off something big at the Statehouse to get this opportunity," Bennett said. "Communities have been wanting to do this for years but got no traction — couldn't even get a vote in the House or Senate."
"Now, we've got the chance to invest in ourselves," Bennett said. "We're going to bring in brand new money — about $10 million a year — that's going to come back and that we can take and invest in quality of life type of things."
Legislation authored by Ford and Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, allowed casino operator Spectacle Entertainment to move its pair of casinos from Buffington Harbor in Gary to a single inland location in Northwest Indiana. That freed up a license for Vigo County.
Now, the Indiana Gaming Commission commission will evaluate proposals based on economic benefits; tax revenue; the number of new jobs created; whether the applicant plans an investment of at least $100 million in Vigo County; financial stability of the applicant; the applicant’s history of community involvement and other factors.
A study prepared by The Innovation Group for the Casino Association of Indiana says a casino in Vigo County could create 650 full-time jobs and 140 part-time jobs and draw more than 819,000 gaming visits annually. It projects a total annual economic output of more than $180 million.
Local government and beneficiaries would see a piece of that. The largest payment is from a wagering tax, estimated to be about $4.6 million. This will go to the city of Terre Haute, if a casino is inside the city limits. With an admissions tax, a tax levied against the casino for each person who enters, the Vigo County casino is estimated to bring in more than $2.6 million.
Construction on the new casino could start sometime in 2020, and the venue could be open for business by winter 2021.