Mayors of Terre Haute, Gary address The Economic impact of Gaming Expansion
By Emily Ketterer
INDIANAPOLIS — With only days left for Indiana lawmakers to come to a consensus on the gaming expansion bill, the mayors of Terre Haute and Gary are asking them to not forget about the economic development benefit for their cities.
Senate Bill 552, as it stands now, would allow two Gary casinos to merge and move inland from the city’s lakefront, and allow for a new casino in Terre Haute.“552 is obviously a gaming bill, and that’s where all the drama is, that’s where all the conversation is,” Mayor Duke Bennett of Terre Haute Duke Bennett said.
Bennett joined Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson at a Statehouse press conference Thursday to argue that SB 552 isn’t just about gaming, but also about the development of two communities.
After a number of provisions were changed in the House, including making interested companies bid on the Terre Haute casino and banning mobile sports betting, the bill is still a work in progress.
“We know there’s a lot of work still to be done,” Bennett said. “We want to be clear about reminding everyone how important this economic development is.”
The city of Gary wants to develop Buffington Harbor, where the two casinos currently sit, into a North American intermodal gateway, Freeman-Wilson said. She said this development is important to expand the city’s economy since it sits 30 miles east of Chicago.
“So often, people can focus on the shiny object in the room, and in this case, it’s certainly casinos,” Freeman-Wilson said. “But for us, this has never been primarily about the casino.”
The mayors said hundreds of jobs are at stake in the casino expansions. And, Bennett said, the revenue will reap long-term benefits, helping the cities complete more projects to improve the quality of life and boosting state coffers.
“It’s about a $75 million impact for the state of new revenue if we can get both of these casinos done,” Bennett said.
Bennett said there are pros and cons to the changes in the bill, including the bidding process for his city’s new casino. Three interested gaming companies will be chosen by a county advisory board to compete in a process to bid on the new casino, with the first bid starting at $25 million.
“My take on it is, we’re just seeking a casino,” Bennett said. “I’m all about the open market and being able to get the right proposal in place, so if that’s the way it ends up, I’m fine with that.”
Near the end of the conference, reporters asked the mayors if they felt casino bosses should have easy access to public officials, in reference to a story published by The Indianapolis Star about Gov. Eric Holcomb’s paid-for plane ride with a casino boss that owns the two Gary casinos in 2018.
Bennett said it’s important that proper ethics are followed, but said people who make decisions for the state and members of the private sector are always going to have conversations about how to make Indiana better.
“At the end of the day,” he said. “I trust everyone involved in the process to make the right decisions, do the right thing.”
FOOTNOTE: Emily Ketterer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.