INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb believes it's a winning move for Indiana to permit Gary's Majestic Star casinos to relocate from their Lake Michigan dock to a land-based site and to legalize sports wagering, including on mobile devices.
The Republican chief executive on Wednesday signed into law House Enrolled Act 1015, which introduces perhaps the biggest changes to Indiana's gaming landscape since riverboat casinos first were legalized in 1993.
The new law fulfills the long-sought dream of former state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, and other Gary leaders, to move the city's casinos to a more accessible location, likely adjacent to the Borman Expressway, and to open Buffington Harbor for redevelopment as an intermodal shipping and warehousing alternative to Chicago.
"I am pleased that the governor chose to sign this monumental bill into law," said state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary. "The impact it will have on Gary, Northwest Indiana, as well as the entire state, is widespread, and I look forward to the historic changes that will take place."
"This is something our community has been working on for over a decade, and with this signature, hundreds of Hoosiers will find employment. Gary now has the opportunity to become an intermodal gateway for the United States."
The new law also adds a new casino in Terre Haute and puts the opportunity to gamble around-the-clock in the pocket of nearly every adult Hoosier with a mobile phone, when legalized sports wagering takes effect Sept. 1.
The governor took an usually long time to decide whether to sign the measure into law.
Holcomb typically enacts legislation approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly within one day of receiving it. On the gaming proposal, he used all seven of the available days in order to, as he said, "read the bill word-for-word."
"Gaming is a highly regulated industry that once had little competition, but now does from surrounding states and new technology," Holcomb said after signing the proposal.
"By modernizing our laws, this legislation will spur positive economic growth for our state and for an industry that employs over 11,000 Hoosiers. Additionally, it will bring in new revenue and create hundreds of new jobs — both permanent and in construction."
At the same time, Holcomb signaled that he might not be all-in on the plan.
His statement directs the Indiana Gaming Commission "to monitor for potential effects of this bill so that we can make necessary changes in future legislative sessions."
Under the new law, Spectacle Entertainment, the Majestic Star owner, starting July 1 can request permission from the Gaming Commission to relocate and consolidate its two casinos, which are marketed as a single entity, to a land-based site anywhere in Gary.
The request must be accompanied by the first of five installments of a total $20-million move fee, plans for a land-based facility and employee transfers, and by Jan. 1, 2020, consent from the Gary City Council for the move.
The commission then will evaluate the economic benefits, tax revenue, jobs created and minimum $150-million project size to decide whether to permit the relocation, which also requires Spectacle to give up the second Gary gaming license as a condition of the move.
Spectacle previously announced plans to construct a $300 million Gary casino, including a 200-room boutique hotel, that will increase the state's gaming tax revenue collections and create 400 jobs at the new location — growing Majestic's current workforce by one-half to about 1,200.
"We are elated!" said John Keeler, Spectacle's general counsel, after Holcomb signed the gaming measure into law.
The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency projects that if Spectacle receives Gaming Commission approval to move the Majestic Star, gaming at the new location will begin sometime between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
The law allows the new Gary casino to have up to 2,764 gambling games to match the maximum combined gaming positions offered at the two Majestic Star boats, instead of limiting the inland casino to the gaming capacity of a single boat.
Meanwhile, as part of an effort to prevent the perceived "expansion" of gambling in Indiana, Hoosier lawmakers made the procedure for establishing a Terre Haute casino contingent on Spectacle beginning the process of relocating its Gary casinos, and Vigo County voters approving casino gambling at either the 2019 general election or the 2020 primary.
Assuming both win approval, the Gaming Commission then will solicit applications from casino companies, possibly including Spectacle, that are interested in constructing and operating a minimum $100-million Terre Haute casino.
In the meantime, the Gaming Commission also will be busy devising and implementing rules, and evaluating and licensing vendors, ahead of the Sept. 1 launch of sports wagering in Indiana.
The law permits Hoosiers to place bets, including in-game wagers, at casinos, racinos, off-track wagering facilities or mobile devices on professional sporting events, not including e-sports, horse racing or amateur youth sports.