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Horseshoe Casino doubles down on efforts to support its community

The entrance to Horseshoe Casino in Hammond. The casino will object to any proposal to transfer licenses or allow casinos to move inland from their current property.

A move of Gary's Majestic Star Casino and the transfer of one of its two gaming licenses to another community would mean a disruption to the gaming industry that would negatively impact other casinos and their investment plans, a local casino executive said last week.

The city of Gary's vision to turn Buffington Harbor into an intermodal transportation hub has renewed talk of a Majestic Star move from the lakeshore. But Horseshoe Casino Sr. Vice President and General Manager Dan Nita said that would disrupt the heavily regulated gaming business model, and would upset the balance the state has maintained among companies and communities involved in the industry.

"We operate with a very defined set of ground rules," Nita said. "This gives all the operators a sense of security, knowing the goal line won't be moving."

Nita said Horseshoe parent Caesars Entertainment has invested $1.7 billion in the purchase of two Indiana racetrack-casino facilities, and is building a new $85 million Horseshoe Southern Indiana on its existing Ohio River-bank property. Nita said a move of a casino inland — including a potential Gary casino at Interstates 65 and 80/94 — and the potential for licenses to be moved to new communities would put future investments like those into question.

"The threat of licenses being moved — it's a domino effect. You don't know where it will stop," Nita said.

The issue heated up in October when the Indiana General Assembly's Interim Study Committee on Commerce and Economic Development endorsed Gary's desire for an intermodal hub at Buffington Harbor.

The committee stated in its Oct. 30 report that it "supports the continued pursuit of the area's highest and best use as an intermodal hub," and called for "the necessary move of the Majestic Star Casino to an alternate location within the city to ensure that the development can achieve its full potential."

A move inland would presumably free up one of Majestic's two licenses. And as the legislative study committee was endorsing Gary's visition, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. was announcing his city's interest in acquiring that license.

“Month after month and year after year, Hammond’s Horseshoe Casino leads the way in gaming revenue and taxes generated for the state of Indiana," McDermott said in a press release issued after the study committee's Oct. 30 vote. "There isn’t any reason the city can’t continue to make even more money for the state by taking advantage of its border with Illinois.”

Horseshoe Casino doesn't share that opinion. Nita said the casino and city have an "outstanding" relationship, but, "this is an instance we're very much in different positions."

Since McDermott's announcement and the Hammond City Council's passage of a resolution supporting it, other expressions of interest in a casino license have come from a possible Hobart-Merrillville partnership and from Portage.

Any changes would need to be enacted by the state. Significant changes to the casino industry have proved difficult during gaming's quarter-century history in the Statehouse, and this year's study committee did not contemplate draft legislation regarding its Buffington Harbor recommendation.

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Transportation Reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.