Full House to Drop Indiana Casino Lawsuits, Churchill Downs to Proceed in Terre Haute

Posted on: January 4, 2022, 07:37h. 

Last updated on: January 5, 2022, 09:56h.

Full House Resorts notified Indiana Gaming Commission officials on Tuesday it would drop its legal challenges regarding the casino license for Terre Haute. It’s a move that clears what is likely the last obstacle for the west central Indiana city to get its long-awaited casino.

Queen of Terre Haute Casino
A rendering of the Queen of Terre Haute Casino, a $240 million development Churchill Downs Inc. plans to build in the west central Indiana town. On Tuesday, Full House Resorts told the Indiana Gaming Commission it would drop its appeal and a separate lawsuit regarding the IGC’s decision in November to award the casino license to the Louisville-based gaming company. (Image: Churchill Downs Inc.)

In November, the IGC picked Churchill Downs Inc. to receive the license. The Louisville-based company plans to invest $240 million to build the Queen of Terre Haute Casino, which is slated to hold 1,000 slot machines and 50 table games. The development would create more than 500 new jobs and includes a 125-room hotel.

Churchill Downs and Full House were the two finalists among the four bidders that vied for Indiana’s 13th casino license. The commission voted to select the Louisville-based gaming company to build the casino at its Nov. 17 hearing.

A month later, Las Vegas-based Full House filed a lawsuit in Indianapolis and a protest with the Office of Administrative Law Proceedings (OLAP). In its filings, the company claimed the IGC violated Indiana’s open meeting laws, and said Churchill Downs’ proposal should be disqualified after its CEO Bill Carstanjen told commissioners the company would consider alternative sites from what it proposed.

At its Dec. 21 meeting, IGC commissioners and Executive Director Greg Small defended the process in selecting Churchill Downs, and criticized Full House for its actions. IGC Chairman Michael McMains dismissed the lawsuit and appeal as “sour grapes.”

Terre Haute Casino Mired By Delays

Full House’s actions last month threatened to further delay the process of opening a casino in Terre Haute. State lawmakers provided a license for Terre Haute in the 2019 expanded gaming bill, and voters in Vigo County approved a referendum on the license that November. The following month, the commission approved Spectacle Entertainment – the lone applicant at the time – for the license.

Since then, the Terre Haute casino had been held up by an investigation into Spectacle that led to changes within the management structure for the Terre Haute casino. Local businessman Greg Gibson, a Spectacle cofounder with Indiana gaming executive Rod Ratcliff, took over as the lead on the project after Ratcliff was forced to step away.

Unfortunately, Gibson was never able to get work started on the planned Hard Rock casino. Last June, the IGC voted against renewing the license for Gibson’s Lucy Luck. That led to the new application process, which attracted bids from Churchill Downs, Full House, Hard Rock International, and Premier Gaming Group.

While the IGC evaluated the new applications, Gibson appealed the nonrenewal and won a stay from an OLAP administrative law judge. Last month, both sides reached an agreement, leading to Gibson to drop the appeal and the IGC to return his $5 million license fee. That allowed the commission to formally award the license to Churchill Downs at its December hearing.

Full House Cases to be Dismissed ASAP

In a letter Casino.org obtained dated Tuesday to IGC General Counsel Dennis Mullen, a lawyer for Full House said the company had no malicious intent, nor did it want to delay the project further.

“Although we disagree with the characterizations that were made regarding the motives and merits of our claims, the comments by the chairman and the other commissioners made clear that, even if the process were reopened or repeated, the outcome is unlikely to be different,” wrote Paul Vink, a lawyer with Bose McKinney & Evans, an Indianapolis firm representing Full House. “Full House’s top priority is for the Commission to continue to view the company as having the highest levels of character and integrity.”

Full House has a presence in Indiana, as it owns the Rising Star Casino in Rising Sun, located about 45 minutes southwest of Cincinnati. Company officials initially pursued building a casino in the Terre Haute area five years ago. But a deadlocked vote in the state legislature ended those plans.

Vink added that he would start taking steps to “formally withdraw and dismiss” the lawsuit and administrative protest immediately.

In a statement to Casino.org Tuesday night, McMains said he appreciated Full House’s reconsideration.

“We are pleased that Full House has dismissed these actions and that Vigo County and the greater community of West Central Indiana will soon benefit from this significant economic development project,” he said.

Churchill Ready to Go in Terre Haute

With Churchill Downs having been awarded the license and the legal challenges now set aside, it should leave no further obstacles toward work on the Queen of the Terre Haute.

The company has been ready to move forward since the IGC selected its bid on Nov. 17. Carstanjen had the $5 million check with him for the licensing fee at that meeting. But IGC officials could not accept it because of the ongoing appeal with Lucy Luck.

“Churchill Downs Incorporated remains excited to move forward with our plan to develop the Queen of Terre Haute,” the company said in a statement Tuesday night to Casino.org. “We are committed to ongoing collaboration with officials in Vigo County and the Indiana Gaming Commission to deliver a valuable regional asset and a true destination casino resort for a community that has waited long enough.”

One question that does linger is whether Churchill Downs will consider relocating from its proposed site in the western part of Terre Haute to the east side, where the other three applicants proposed building their casinos.

A spokesperson for Churchill Downs said the company is “still open to exploring options” for the casino’s location.