INDIANAPOLIS — High-limit players at Ameristar Casino in East Chicago will be the first to experience land-based gaming in Northwest Indiana.
On Thursday, the Indiana Gaming Commission unanimously approved Ameristar's plan to relocate its high-limit slots and table games from its Lake Michigan vessel to a portion of its dockside pavilion that's currently used for restaurants.
Ameristar plans to spend $5.8 million to renovate the space. When complete, likely in mid-April, it will offer 95 high-limit slots, 14 high-limit table games and dedicated high-limit amenities, including a casino cage, rewards center, food, beverages and restrooms.
"We're pretty excited about it," said Matt Schuffert, Ameristar vice president and general manager. "It's going to create a new gaming experience in Northwest Indiana that folks haven't experienced yet."
Ameristar will continue operating its casino boat, with about 100 extra gaming positions on the main level, for players who prefer to wager less on a spin of a slot machine or the turn of a card.
The casino currently has more than 1,700 slot machines and 70 table games.
"By relocating high-limit slots and tables off of the boat onto land, that frees up space, and we'll add additional gaming product to that," Schuffert said.
Ameristar is the first Region casino to take advantage of a 2015 Indiana law permitting the state's permanently moored casino boats to move on land adjacent to their docks.
In southern Indiana, Evansville's Tropicana last month opened an entirely land-based casino.
Schuffert said for now it makes the most economic sense only to move a portion of Ameristar's gaming positions onto land.
"This is an initial step to see how our guests react to it," he said. "Obviously to bring the entire facility on land is a pretty large investment.
"And it's still a very tough, competitive environment up in Chicagoland with Indiana also battling the video gaming terminals over in Illinois. So we think this is the right decision, the right capital investment for our property at this time."
Northwest Indiana's casinos have been fighting to maintain gaming revenue in recent years. For this year through October, revenue is off just over 1 percent from 2016, at $789.7 million.
Schuffert said Ameristar's project already has been endorsed by the East Chicago Plan Commission and the city has approved the casino's technical review.
Having also won the consent of the Indiana Gaming Commission, Ameristar now will seek expedited plan review from the state so construction can begin in late December or early January, he said.
Gaming Commissioner Joseph Svetanoff, of Crown Point, congratulated Ameristar for its decision to move a portion of its casino games onto land.
"As the commissioner from Lake County, I applaud you for taking advantage of the land-based legislation," Svetanoff said. "I look forward to you being successful with this project and bringing jobs to our community."