Terre Haute Casino Proposal Moving Forward as Local Officials Begin Planning November Vote

Posted on: May 18, 2019, 10:13h. 

Last updated on: May 18, 2019, 10:13h.

A proposed casino in Terre Haute, Indiana is becoming increasingly likely as Vigo County election officials move forward on holding a referendum this November, following approval of a far-reaching state gambling bill.

Terre Haute, Indiana Mayor Duke Bennett continues to advocate for a casino in his city. (Image: Tribune-Star)

Three members of the Vigo County Election Board would like the vote in November — when residents head to the polls for election of political candidates.

That is our goal and that is where we are headed with it,” Vigo County Clerk Brad Newman, a member of the election board, told the Tribune-Star about the November timetable.

Board members talked about the county-wide vote this week and will resume discussions — on the casino referendum — in June. Newman wants to have plans for the gaming venue vote arranged by the end of next month.

Under legislation backed this year by the state’s General Assembly and Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, local voters need to agree to the venue somewhere in Vigo County, likely Terre Haute. The city is the county seat, and is located near the Illinois border.

The process can move forward if local voters approve the proposal. Then, the Indiana Gaming Commission would request proposals from possible venue operators.

The commission decides which company would be given the license. Under the new bill, potential casino operators need to pledge they will spend at least $100 million on the Vigo County venue.

Also, 35 percent of the investment must be earmarked for amenities that do not directly relate to gaming. If the venue is approved and opens, tax revenue from venue’s gambling will be shared with county and Terre Haute government and schools.

Terre Haute Needs Money from Casino

Some 40 percent will go to Terre Haute; 30 percent will go to Vigo County; and 15 percent will go to the Vigo County School Corp. Another 15 percent will go to West Central 2025, an economic development initiative associated with the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce.

While the bill was being considered by state legislators, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, a Republican, testified in March, “Terre Haute is ready for this opportunity… We will make great use of this revenue to enhance our city, our region and our state,” according to the Tribune-Star.

Earlier this month, state Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute), said he expects the referendum to get approved by Vigo County voters. “Local media polls show 70-plus percent in support,” Ford said.

The gambling bill also allows Spectacle Entertainment to reassign licenses for the Majestic Star riverboat casinos in Gary to a likely inland site in the city — possibly near a highway exit. The licenses for the two floating venues would be combined for a large, single gaming venue.

Gary’s Majestic Star I and Majestic Star II, moored on Buffington Harbor on Lake Michigan, now operate as a single casino. But they are technically separate entities with separate licenses.

The bill freed up one of the licenses for Terre Haute located some 172 miles from Gary. Spectacle Entertainment is likely to submit a casino proposal for Terre Haute, too.

Legislators additionally approved sports betting in the state as part of the legislation. The bill also allows for the state’s two racinos, in Shelbyville and Anderson, to offer table games starting in January 2020.

Where to Place Casino?

Mayor Bennett would like the planned casino to go in the city’s East Side. Greg Gibson, who was identified by the Greensburg Daily News as a partner in Spectacle Entertainment, told the newspaper he would like it in a commercial zone near U.S. Route 40/Indiana Route 46.

Terre Haute may be best known as the site of Indiana State University and a federal prison. The city has some 61,000 people.