INDIANAPOLIS — Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has no regrets about his efforts to protect jobs and tax revenue in Hammond by working over the past four months to scuttle legislation at the Statehouse permitting the relocation of Gary's Majestic Star casinos.
But with House Enrolled Act 1015 now headed to the governor's desk, McDermott said Thursday he's tipping his cap to Gary for overcoming tremendous odds and winning approval to move the casinos off Lake Michigan to a land-based site, likely adjacent to the Borman Expressway.
"I knew we were in trouble this session, and I fought like hell, did everything I could for my city — which is my job — and we were not successful," McDermott said. "Gary and the Republican supermajority worked together, got this passed and approved.
"I had a job to do as the mayor of Hammond. I feel like I did it and we lost, and we're moving forward."
McDermott suspects the post-Majestic redevelopment of Gary's Buffington Harbor into an intermodal shipping and warehousing alternative to Chicago will be nothing more than a repeat of the city's prior big projects, such as the airport runway expansion and downtown baseball stadium, that he said didn't amount to much in the long run.
"I wish them well, and I hope that it is truly the transformative project that they envision it to be," McDermott said. "I've heard that word used a lot on many different projects; I hope this is the one."
McDermott acknowledged following Wednesday's adjournment of the 2019 Indiana General Assembly that Hammond's stated interest in acquiring the second Gary casino license merely was part of his efforts to negatively affect the gaming legislation.
"When we talked about the second license coming to Hammond, never in a million years did we think the second license was coming to Hammond," McDermott said. "We were trying to start a food fight, quite frankly.
"Believe me, if they would have offered us the second license, I would have taken it. But primarily, that whole issue, my job was to start a food fight, and I think I did."
McDermott said he has no problem with the second license going to Terre Haute, as provided for by the legislation, if west-central Indiana voters in Vigo County authorize casino gambling.
He's also not counting on Hammond seeing much benefit from the "hold-harmless" provision in the gaming measure, since the Majestic Star move is expected to cause minimal to no reduction in Hammond's gaming tax receipts.
"I think if Gary gains a lot, it's going to be East Chicago's loss," McDermott said. "Hopefully the hold harmless language really helps them out. I really hope so, I don't want East Chicago to be devastated because of this."
"In reality, Hammond is going to be the least affected out of this relocation. Hammond still will be the king player in the casino industry because of our location."
Aside from gaming, McDermott said Hammond had a very successful legislative session, winning approval for tax incentives to further develop the Digital Crossroads of America Data Center, and securing additional state funding for the expansion of the South Shore Line.
"We walked out of the Legislature with two out of our three wishes approved," he said. "We walked out of the session better than we walked into the session, I'm convinced of that."
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