Construction on Hard Rock Gary May Start in September as Casino Competition Looms from Illinois

Posted on: July 27, 2019, 09:10h. 

Last updated on: July 27, 2019, 12:15h.

Hard Rock Casino Gary construction could begin as early as September and be completed by the end of next year — if owner Spectacle Entertainment gets required city and Indiana state approvals over the summer.

Gary, Ind. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is confident about the planned land-based casino in her city as local boards vote this summer on the proposal. (Image:

Spectacle officials told the Gary Plan Commission this week the approximately 200,000 square foot, $400 million venue planned for a vacant parcel near the Borman Expressway is scheduled to open on Dec. 31, 2020. Following that, the company is expecting an adjacent hotel and parking garage would open in 2022 or 2023.

The commission unanimously approved the casino last Tuesday.

“We originally envisioned to do that all in one fell swoop, but then along came Illinois [casino expansion] and that sort of set us back on our heels a little bit,” John Keeler, Spectacle vice president and general counsel, was quoted by Inside Indiana Business. “But we’re committed to this project and committed to doing it in two phases.”

Proposed Chicago Venue Competitor to Indiana

Earlier this month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that increases the number of casinos in that state from 10 to 16, including one in Chicago — which is about a half-hour drive from the Gary property. Gary’s new casino will be able to compete with venues in Chicago and other locations — especially with the Gary property associated with the Hard Rock brand, company and local officials said.

That partnership was dictated by what happened in Illinois,” Keeler was quoted by The Times of Northwest Indiana. “We felt if we were going to be able to compete in Gary and put out a first-class product … we needed to partner with the gold standard … in the casino gaming industry. And that’s why we’ve partnered with Hard Rock, who will manage and brand this casino.”

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is upbeat, too. “We are confident in our ability to compete thanks to the prime location on [the] 80/94 [corridor], the success of the Hard Rock brand, and the experience and expertise of the managing partners,” Freeman-Wilson told

She explained the Hard Rock brand is “known as a destination for entertainment as well as gaming.”

The new venue is a replacement for Spectacle’s Majestic Star dual floating casinos docked at nearby Buffington Harbor. Hard Rock Casino Gary will use one of two licenses now in use by Majestic Star, with the other reassigned to another location.

The state’s recently enacted expanded gaming law will give Vigo County the first opportunity for the casino. If voters there approve a referendum in November, Spectacle and Hard Rock officials have said they plan to compete for that license as well, with plans to put it in Terre Haute.

Once open, the Hard Rock Casino Gary will feature the region’s second-largest gaming venue, a sportsbook, restaurants, and bars, including a Hard Rock Cafe. Hard Rock Live will feature live musical performances, too.

As of Thursday, Spectacle had not yet applied for a sportsbook license, according to Sarah Tait, the executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) told

Local Approvals Begin

On Tuesday, the Board of Zoning Appeals will consider the gaming venue.

The city’s Common Council will discuss the venue on Aug. 7 during a first reading and during a final reading on Aug. 20. The council also will hold a hearing on the application next month. The IGC will consider the application on an Aug. 28 meeting.

“We look forward to the new casino making Gary a destination for gaming and entertainment and becoming a catalyst for development along the I-80/94 corridor,” Freeman-Wilson added. “The move of the casino from the industrial corridor opens the door for the development of an intermodal hub at Buffington Harbor.”

Spectacle Entertainment predicts the new casino and adjoining venues will lead to hiring about 1,800 employees. There are now some 800 or 900 employees at the Majestic Star boats on Lake Michigan. To build the new casino, Spectacle predicts the hiring of some 1,000 construction workers.

Reassigning the Buffington Harbor casino license to the land-based parcel has also led to the closing of a 300-room hotel that is located at the harbor. The hotel was initially opened by Donald Trump’s casino company in 1998.

The new Gary casino can have up to 2,764 gaming positions. The Majestic Star’s boats currently combine to hold 1,620 slot machines and 63 table games. Horseshoe Hammond, Indiana’s largest casino and located about six miles west of Gary, features 2,173 slots and 150 table games.

Hard Rock is also trying to capture a new casino license for Rockford, Illinois. That is about 120 miles from Gary.

There currently are 12 Hard Rock casinos, most with hotels, operating or under construction. They are in the United States, Canada, and the Dominican Republic.