In the 20 years since the Indiana General Assembly allowed casinos to operate in certain cities, some people have forgotten why only those cities were allowed to hold referendums on the casinos. It's because those cities needed an economic shot in the arm.
Bring casinos to those cities, the theory went, and not only would jobs be created to build and then operate the casinos, but the casinos would also spur additional development in those cities.
In Hammond, Horseshoe Casino's $485 million expansion project has prompted private developers to take renewed interest in that area, said Phil Taillon, executive director of the Hammond Department of Planning and Development.
"Any additional development — especially right on the border of Illinois — you get a lot of traffic from Illinois. That's the true definition of economic development," Taillon said. "You're getting a lot of people from Illinois bringing dollars into Hammond. That's important to us."
A new $25 million project to bring retail stores and restaurants to Indianapolis Boulevard near Horseshoe Casino and the Walmart Supercenter is a good example of how this works.
That project, approved by the Hammond City Council last week, will transform the look of that stretch of road. Sure, there are tax breaks involved in bringing that development to fruition, but the casino expansion has brought enough traffic to that part of the city that Marina District Development LLC, the developers of this project, decided to take a look at Hammond.
The project is expected to put two retail strip malls, at least two restaurants and a bank on 16 acres in the first phase. Some of the new stores could open in fall 2014, with the rest opening in 2015.
Indiana lawmakers anticipated this kind of development when casinos were allowed. That's what was supposed to happen when casinos came to host cities in Northwest Indiana.
It was a big gamble, and it's paying off.