HAMMOND — The state's largest casino is preparing to launch what could be one of Indiana's first legal sports wagering centers on Sept. 4, one day before the Chicago Bears battle the Green Bay Packers in the first NFL regular-season game of the year.
Noah Hirsch, Horseshoe Casino assistant general manager, said last week that construction is progressing on Horseshoe's 5,300-square-foot sports book on its Hammond casino floor. The work should be completed around Labor Day.
The Indiana Gaming Commission is expected to approve the state's sports wagering regulations on Aug. 28. Hirsch said assuming there are no hiccups, the Book at Horseshoe Casino may be the first place where gamblers can watch the Bears game and put some money on the outcome.
And Hirsch said there will be plenty to watch.
The Book will have 16 television monitors, each 85 inches wide, that can show several games on huge screens, or many sporting events at the same time.
Also, up to 100 people will be able sit in the new sports book area that previously was home to the casino's promotions desk at the base of the escalator that goes to the Village Square Buffet and The Venue concert hall.
"We're really excited for the energy that it will bring to our casino and to our gaming floor," Hirsch said.
It's not been announced when other Region casinos plan to open their sports books. Hirsch is doubtful any will allocate the same resources to sports wagering, since the casinos in East Chicago, Gary and Michigan City don't have the same available floor space as the Horseshoe.
"We think we're going to be the premier sports book for the Region, including the Illinois side, for the foreseeable future," he said.
Horseshoe this week is beginning a bi-state marketing campaign using billboards, online advertisements and other means to encourage both regular casino patrons and sports fans to check out the new sports book once it opens.
Hirsch said there is a tremendous opportunity to attract Illinois sports fans to gamble across the state line in Indiana. Illinois only passed its sports wagering enabling legislation in July and it likely will be many months before the necessary regulations are adopted.
Additionally, Illinois casinos are forbidden from taking wagers on Illinois college sports. That likely could send gamblers who want to put a few bucks on Northwestern football or DePaul basketball to the Horseshoe, which sits nearly on the Indiana-Illinois border.
"We will certainly have an aggressive approach to making sure there's an awareness that we are here, and specifically the type of offerings that we'll have," Hirsch said.
Indiana lawmakers in April legalized sports wagering starting Sept. 1, pending final regulatory approval by the Indiana Gaming Commission, which Hirsch said has been "a great partner in helping get the regulations where they need to be."
At the same time, he cautioned that it still will take a huge effort to get the Horseshoe's internal controls, standard operating procedures, back-end technology, surveillance and other infrastructure in place to begin taking sports bets on Sept. 4.
"Obviously there are a lot of moving pieces, so we need to make sure from a construction and from a regulatory perspective we are set to move," Hirsch said.
As for Hoosiers placing sports bets through the Horseshoe from anywhere in the state using their phones and other mobile devices, Hirsch said the casino hopes to get its online sports wagering up and running by the end of the year.
"Right now our main concern is just making sure that we get what we call our bricks-and-mortar operations stood up," he said.