In a unanimous vote, the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) last week approved a Vigo County gaming license for Kentucky-based Churchill Downs Inc.. CDI will build and operate the $240 million Queen of Terre Haute Casino.
Other contenders for the license included Hard Rock International, Premiere Gaming, and the runner-up, Full House Resorts, which operates the Rising Star Casino in Ohio County.
Also last week, Lucy Luck Gaming offered to resolve its appeal of commissioners’ decision not to renew its Vigo County gaming license. The commission declined, but is expected to make a counter-offer, to reimburse Lucy Luck’s initial application fee if it drops the appeal.
Because of the Lucy Luck situation, Churchill Downs did not immediately receive the Vigo County gaming license; instead, it was awarded a “certificate of suitability,” which allows it to begin the process of developing a casino.
Churchill Downs officials said the Queen of Terre Haute will feature a 56,400-square-foot gaming floor with 1,000 slot machines and 50 table games, plus a 125-room luxury hotel, a TwinSpires sportsbook, a special-events area and several bar and restaurant options. The name is a reflection of Terre Haute’s nickname, as the “Queen City of the Wabash Valley.”
The 392,816-square-foot facility will create 1,000 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs. Churchill Downs officials said analysts project the casino will attract 6.7 million visitors and generate $638.9 million in gross gaming receipts in the first five years and generate $190 million in annual economic impact for the region.
Gaming board members said public comments overwhelmingly were in support of Churchill Downs; however, most of those comments came from CDI employees and business partners elsewhere.
Prior to the selection, commissioners heard 30-minute presentations from each of the four bidders. Drew Klacik of the Indiana University Public Policy Institute also presented a study comparing the four applicants to four similarly sized casinos.
Full House Resorts noted it proposed fewer hotel rooms than the others based on existing hotels and possible new nearby hotels in the future. Officials said a temporary gaming facility would be opened while the permanent casino is being built.
Hard Rock noted it had 90 percent brand recognition in the U.S. and also was the only local company with letters of support from local elected officials. Company representatives said they were “shovel-ready” and intended to open the casino in spring 2023, for a 14-month construction timeline.
Premiere Gaming representatives told commissioners their project offered “no financing risk,” since it would be 100 percent equity-funded. Commissioners expressed some concern that the 25-acre location might not accommodate expansions.
The casino proposed by Churchill Downs, known for horse racing and especially the Kentucky Derby, offered the largest square footage. A representative from builder Wilhelm Construction said the company has done numerous projects in the Terre Haute community, and CDI representatives noted casino construction could begin “immediately.”
Prior to the meeting, the Tobacco-Free Vigo Coalition, which seeks to reduce tobacco rates and secondhand smoke exposure, sent a letter to the IGC encouraging it to choose a casino that prioritizes the health of visitors and staff. All four casino contenders said they would follow the Vigo County Clean Indoor Air Ordinance, making the Vigo County casino one of the few smoke-free casinos in Indiana.
At the meeting, prior to the licensee selection, commissioners rejected the Lucy Luck settlement offer; that company, owned by local businessman Greg Gibson, originally was awarded the Vigo County gaming license. But ultimately, the IGC denied the license renewal over concerns about financing and the lack of an executive team. Lucy Luck appealed the IGC’s denial of the license renewal and a judge issued a stay.
In its settlement offer, Lucy Luck requested that the IGC renew its ownership license, promising to dilute Gibson’s ownership and reimburse minority investors. Lucy Luck pledged to then sell its license or turn it over to Hard Rock International or a “similarly situated” gaming company to develop and operate a casino.
On questioning, IGC staff noted that Lucy Luck still lacks an executive team and its financial position is no better than when the commission rejected its license renewal in June. The board then voted 4-0, with one abstention, to reject Lucy Luck’s offer.