Spectacle Begins Groundwork for Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana In Gary

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Spectacle Entertainment has begun the process of clearing out debris at the parcel of land it purchased in Gary for what will eventually be the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana.

Spectacle received final approvals for the project to move forward Tuesday from the Indiana Gaming Commission. The state agency gave its OK for Spectacle to merge and consolidate the two Majestic Star casino boats from their Lake Michigan locale to the new site, which is off Interstates 80 and 94 at 29th Avenue and Burr Street.

The second approval was for Hard Rock International acquiring a minority stake of ownership in the casino. The musical theme synonymous with Hard Rock will feature throughout the property, which covers approximately 30 acres and will feature a casino of approximately 225k square feet and include a sportsbook, Hard Rock Cafe, and 2k-seat Hard Rock Live performance venue.

“I can confirm they are moving dirt,” Spectacle vice president and general counsel John Keeler said. “I was up there last Sunday, they were preparing to put a fence around (the land), scraped it and were clearing debris.”

Keeler said his company is also close to completing a deal for $400 mm in financing for the casino, hoping it will be done by the end of the week. There was a previous financial deal nearly complete in August, but Spectacle withdrew the request for IGC approval due to multiple factors.

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“It’s been a marathon and a sprint,” he said. “We started looking at Majestic in spring 2018, did a lot of diligence and executed the merger agreement in November 2018 and then closed in March 2019. All the while we were trying to work on legislation to move off the water.

“The legislation passed, Illinois passed their bill, and we worked real hard to put financing in place to partner with Hard Rock and we’re getting there.”

Hard Rock to add to crowded gambling landscape on border

Keeler conceded one of the reasons for the delay was due to Illinois passing gambling expansion in the summer which calls for a casino both in downtown Chicago and suburban Cook County. Gamblers already do not lack options along the Illinois-Indiana border, with the Horseshoe Hammond, Ameristar Casino in East Chicago, and Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City all popular destinations for residents on both sides of the state line.

Keeler hopes construction for the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana will be completed by New Year’s Eve 2020, though the delay in putting all the pieces together and gaining approval may result in pushing the open date to 2021. As the Hard Rock is being built, the Majestic Casinos will remain open in Buffington Harbor in Gary, and Keeler is confident there will be a seamless transition to the new space with what he believes will be a large legacy staff.

“Everyone who has a job now will have a job at Hard Rock,” Keeler said, which comes out to approximately 1,800 people. “We have a really great cadre of people we work with. What surprised us was the number of them when we got the keys to the Majestic was how many of them worked there since its inception, which is 15 to 20 years.”

Also a former Indiana state representative from 1982-98, Keeler is also confident Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana will be a destination that raises the profile of Gary both as a tourist destination and in economic development.

“From a legislator’s view, it’s great for the state and Gary in particular,” he noted. “Phase Two is a hotel, with 1,800 jobs, which doubles the head count. It increases the property tax base and does a lot to strengthen the neighborhood … and give Northwest Indiana a shot in the arm.”

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Chris Altruda

Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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