Churchill Downs Among Four Vying for Terre Haute Casino License

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It is game on again for a casino in Terre Haute, but this time there are more players looking to land that potential gaming license.

The Indiana Gaming Commission received four applications for the license, which became available earlier this summer when it rejected the license renewal of Lucy Luck, which was an offshoot of Spectacle Entertainment that had been working in tandem with Hard Rock to bring a “rocksino” to the city slightly more than an hour west of Indianapolis.

Hard Rock has resubmitted an application for the casino license, but joining the fray are Churchill Downs, Full House Resorts, and Premier Gaming. All four plan to offer retail sports wagering in addition to the standard amenities of slots and table games, with only Hard Rock’s submission showing no plans to build an adjoining hotel.

Churchill opts for sportsbook in the round approach

Churchill Downs’ casino would have approximately 1,000 slot machine positions and an additional 50 table games spanning more than 56,000 square feet of gaming space. The centerpiece would be the TwinSpires Sportsbook at Crossroads Sports Bar, which would be centrally located and a nod to the intersection of U.S. Highways 40 and 41 in downtown Terre Haute.

“Churchill Downs has a 147-year track record of offering extraordinary entertainment experiences and has significant expertise developing premier casino and gaming properties throughout the United States,” said Bill Carstanjen, chief executive officer of CDI, in a statement on its website. “We are proud to offer our vision for this world-class casino, a true destination resort designed to draw visitors and economic activity from across the Midwest to Terre Haute.”

The sportsbook figured to be part of a vibrant casino scene, elevated from the casino floor and offering 360-degree views of the casinos and LED screens along low walls. There would also be an oversized LED screen overhead with a ticker of sporting events featuring updated odds for wagering purposes.

The casino would have the capacity to seat 840 guests for dining and entertainment, with the Four Cornered Steakhouse being the marquee dining attraction. The adjoining hotel, the Queen of Terre Haute, would consist of 125 rooms and have the capacity for another 900 guests. The hotel would also have a rooftop bar and lounge area as well as a bar in the lobby area.

Churchill also plans to have a special events center, but it has limited capacity of that floor space to 500 patrons to avoid being in direct competition with the recently opened $35 million Terre Haute Convention Center. Churchill noted an economic impact study conducted by Purdue University estimated the Queen of Terre Haute would create $190 million in annual economic impact, along with 1,000 construction jobs and 500 permanent ones.

Full House out to make Terre Haute a Midwest destination

Rivaling Churchill Downs for the numbers of both slot machine and table gaming positions, Full House Resorts has proposed a $250 million facility that would encompass a casino, hotel, and restaurant area. It also boasts that the project would create approximately 1,800 construction jobs in and around Vigo County, and 800 additional jobs once American Place is completed.

Full House is the only one of the four applicants that detailed plans to operate a temporary casino while the permanent one is being built should it be awarded the license, saying it could operate at the former Macy’s Department Store in Haute City Center Mall within six months of issuance for a period of 18 to 24 months.

“After several years of studying Terre Haute and nearby communities, we believe we have designed a unique destination that will make Indiana residents proud,” said Daniel R. Lee, president and CEO of Full House Resorts. “American Place was designed to be a world-class entertainment facility, one that will bring new jobs and revenues to Terre Haute, Vigo County, and the State of Indiana.

“We have been licensed in good standing in Indiana for many years, where we own and operate the Rising Star Casino Resort and Golf Course in Rising Sun, which opened in 1996. This project would allow us to leverage our experience and database in Indiana, with cross-marketing opportunities with Rising Star. It will also provide career advancement opportunities within Indiana for our Rising Sun team members, while allowing us to seed the new Terre Haute team with experienced Indiana gaming personnel.”

The proposed permanent location looks to provide easy access to both Interstate 70 and State Route 46. In materials submitted to the IGC, Full House said “American Place is designed and will be marketed to capture customers throughout the Midwest,” with out-of-state residents providing a positive economic impact to Vigo County as well as “substantial gaming revenues new and incremental to Indiana.”

Full House has tabbed JERDE, which designed both the Palms and the Bellagio in Las Vegas, for this project. It calls for a 100-room, four-star hotel adjoining the casino, as well as a “Greenhouse” that would offer fine dining including a steakhouse and other venues that showcase farm-to-table dining from local farms. American Place would also have a rooftop lounge among its amenities.

Hard Rock not going away quietly

Having quickly established itself as a casino destination in Gary earlier this year, Hard Rock is again trying to add to its Indiana presence. Its proposed Terre Haute location would have approximately 850 slot machine gaming positions and 35 table games. Hard Rock’s sportsbook would also be centrally located and visible from the casino entrance area, and it is one of six dining areas that are part of an overall food and beverage capacity of more than 500.

Hard Rock would also have a retail space of at least 1,000 square feet, a high-limit gaming area, and a 300-seat Velvet Sessions Showroom for live entertainment. It originally planned for the rocksino with Lucy Luck to be on the east side of the city off S.R. 46, but it has yet to determine where the location for this casino would be. The 850 slot machine gaming positions and 35 tables would also be less than the first venture, which listed a range of 900 to 1,150 slot machines and up to 50 tables.

Outsider Premier Gaming seeks an in to Terre Haute

Premier Gaming’s submission appears to be the most modest one in terms of casino size and scope, projecting 800 slot machine gaming positions and 20 tables. That would be a step up from the Magnolia Bluffs and Casino Resort it currently operates in Mississippi, which has 500 slot machines and 18 table games with 45,000 square feet of gaming.

That location also features a 141-room hotel that was remodeled in 2015. The Terre Haute proposal includes a hotel that would have a full-service spa, fitness room, and meeting space. For dining amenities, Premier Gaming’s plan includes a restaurant sportsbook, a second restaurant/cafe and a “feature bar.”

Premier Gaming Group was founded by Kevin Preston, who started the company in 2009 after gaining more than two decades of professional experience through stops at Harrah’s, Wild Rose, and Tropicana.

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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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