INDIANAPOLIS | After years of opposing Gary's legislative efforts for a land-based casino, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. is ready to endorse Gary's latest plan — so long as he gets a second casino for Hammond.
Gary's Majestic Star operates on two state casino licenses, a remnant of a time when the two current Majestic Star boats had different owners. McDermott said if the Majestic Star is moved to land — likely on Broadway near the Borman Expressway — the second license should go to Hammond.
"If the land-based casino is built in Gary it's definitely going to hurt Horseshoe Casino's profits," McDermott said. "So how can Hammond support Gary, be regional, and not hurt itself? Well this is a proposal, and I think it's a good proposal."
McDermott said a land-based Hammond casino on Indianapolis Boulevard near the Borman Expressway, coupled with the Horseshoe on Lake Michigan, would position Indiana to better compete with proposed Illinois casinos in Chicago and the south suburbs.
"They're going to build one on (Interstate) 80/94, so why not? Indiana will have two land-based casinos on 80/94," McDermott said.
When told of McDermott's plan, the first reaction from state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, was to say, "I wonder what he's been smoking."
Brown said he expects the second Gary license will be returned to the state as part of any deal permitting land-based gaming in the Steel City. He said McDermott's proposal is an attempt once again to derail that effort.
"He knows full well that the leadership of the Republican Party has said nothing will happen in Lake County with gaming unless there's a united front," Brown said. "Well if that's the case, why isn't there some discussion first and say, 'Where is that happy medium?' rather than throwing something out there knowing what reaction it's going to get?"
Ernest Yelton, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, said the Legislature would have to approve any movement of a casino license from Gary to another city. He said any possible compensation to Majestic Star or Gary for giving up the second license also would be determined by the General Assembly.
McDermott said Indiana would be "silly" to eliminate the second Gary license when it can be used in Hammond to generate extra money for the state.
"Hammond is the largest city in Lake County, and in the state of Indiana we generate the most casino revenue," McDermott said. "This is where we'd make the most money from casino gambling."