Hard Rock Gary Developer Receives Indiana Gaming Commission Approval to Build Land-Based Casino

Posted on: August 28, 2019, 08:52h. 

Last updated on: August 28, 2019, 08:52h.

INDIANAPOLIS – Spectacle Entertainment got the go-ahead Wednesday from the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) to move its Majestic Star riverboat casino in Gary to a land-based site in the northwest Indiana city. The approval, in a unanimous decision, allows the company to move forward with its plans to re-brand the planned casino as Hard Rock Gary, a $300 million development set to open by the end of next year.

Spectacle Entertainment expects to finalize the agreement with Hard Rock next month on the planned $300 million casino the Indiana Gaming Commission approved Wednesday. (Image: Spectacle Entertainment)

Some of the formal details of the project, including a signed agreement with Hard Rock officials, have yet to be finalized. John Keeler, Spectacle’s vice president and general counsel, told the IGC he expects to have the partnership paperwork completed, subject to the commission’s approval, by mid-September.

Currently, the parties are working under a letter of intent.

Keeler said Hard Rock’s participation was a critical piece of the project, citing the aggressive plans underway in Illinois, especially in the Chicago market where Gary is located. Under the plan, Hard Rock will manage and develop the Gary casino, Keeler added.

“We thought we had to partner with somebody that was the gold standard of the casino business,” he said.

Spectacle got the right to seek the move thanks to the expanded gaming law the state legislature passed earlier this year.

Phased Approach Still the Plan

Under the plan, the developers will build a 225,000-square-foot casino and a 2,000-seat concert hall that Keeler hopes will open by December 2020. After that, work would begin on a 200-room hotel.

Keeler said the planned Chicago casinos in the Illinois law prompted Spectacle to scale back the project and break it down into stages. That hasn’t changed even though reports indicate a Chicago casino may not be as lucrative as previously thought due to tax issues.

“We’re still committed to this two-phase approach,” Keeler told Casino.org after the meeting.

Spectacle expects the new casino to employ about 1,600, up from the current 950 working at the Majestic Star. Once work finishes on the hotel, that should add about another 200 workers, Keeler said.

Hard Rock Move Benefits City and Casino

Moving the casino to a land-based site helps Gary in two ways, Keeler and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told the IGC.

For the city, it allows officials to seek commercial businesses for Buffington Harbor, and Freeman-Wilson told the Commission that there’s already a $500 million proposal for the site. She’s also hopeful that an intermodal project can be developed that will tie the harbor to nearby rail and highways for distribution purposes.

From the casino’s perspective, the land-based casino, right off the Interstate, will be in a much more prominent location that will be easier to access than the Majestic Star boats, Keeler said.

If you haven’t been there to find these two boats, you need a map and a compass, because they are really hidden in a very remote location,” he added.

As part of the relocation process, Spectacle will pay the state a $20 million relocation fee in five annual installments of $4 million. Those payments will begin later this year.

The Majestic Star uses two casino licenses. As part of the plan to move inland, Spectacle Entertainment maintained just one license and gave up the second.

That license, thanks to the expanded gaming law, is now lined up for a proposed casino in Vigo County, located in central Indiana along the Illinois border. IGC Executive Director Sara Gonso Tait told the Commission that the deadline to apply for that license is Dec. 1, assuming that voters in the county pass a referendum scheduled for Nov. 5.

Keeler said Spectacle and Hard Rock plan to apply for that license.