Majestic Star Asks Indiana Lawmakers to Approve Casino Moves

Majestic Star Casino Gary Indiana

The Buffington Harbor plan has been discussed since 2013, but seems to have gained steam in the past year.

Majestic Star is asking the Indiana General Assembly to let it move its two casino licenses inland, including one outside the city of Gary altogether. Majestic Star is willing to go along with a plan to build Buffington Harbor into a transportation hub, if it receives the right to transform its riverboat casinos into brick-and-mortar operations.

If the General Assembly approves such a plan, Majestic Star would move one casino to an unknown land-based site somewhere in Gary, an Indiana suburb of Chicago, Illinois. The other would go further inland, perhaps to Central Indiana – as far as Terra Haute.

Ron Alting (R-Lafayette), the chairman of the Senate Public Policy Committee, said he would not rule out a move to Terra Haute or some other location in Central Indiana.

Kaitlin Lange of the Indianapolis Star said a move to Terra Haute or a smaller town in Central Indiana is not likely to happen. Lange wrote, “In the past, proposals for casinos at both locations have failed.”

Caesars Entertainment Warns against Move

The issue is controversial. Caesars Entertainment, which operates Indiana casinos, complained that a decision to move casino licenses would make the state seem unstable and therefore hurt future investments.

Of course, Caesars is an in-state rival to Majestic Star and its casinos are located away from Gary, so any move could have an adverse effect on the revenues at Caesars casinos. It is instructive to note that Majestic Star is willing to comply with the legislature’s dictates.

Whatever the political and economic implications, the decision could have a profound impact on the future of Indiana’s gaming industry. Indiana has not has a new land-based casinos in 10 years. In its 23-year history of casinos, none have ever moved.

Why Inland Casinos Are Better

Even before the Buffington Harbor plan, gambling operators wanted to remove the restrictions of “riverboat” casino laws. Under such laws, a casino is legal if it is located on a body of water — usually a river, but in this case on Lake Michigan.

The problem with water-based casinos is they limit the number of gaming machines and table games. Also, they tend to be fit into limited spaces, so they might not have the room for the hotel space and resort accommodations which have become a staple of 21st century integrated resorts.

What Is an Integrated Casino Resort?

An integrated casino resort includes retail outlets, a range of restaurants and nightclubs, convention space, a live concert arena, and a variety of other attractions and amenities. It is a way to diversify the revenues of a casino operation by having streams of non-gaming revenue.

The integrated resort becomes a central hub in a city, fit for convention crowds, family visits, and other non-gambler tourism. All of that is more likely if a casino moves inland. It is a 21st century concept which has worked in Las Vegas and is starting to work in Macau, the largest gaming destination in the world.

As Bill Alsup, an analyst for Union Gaming Analytics, told the Chicago Tribune, “Casinos are no longer just about the gaming supply.”

John Vickerman on Buffington Harbor

The Majestic Star’s request to move inland is one of those situations where the gaming industry and local business interests are in alignment. John Vickerman, president of Vickerman & Associates, is one of the land developers who wants to transform Buffington Harbor into a fully developed port facility.

Vickerman said of the Buffington Harbor development plan, “I think we have a unique and positive opportunity here to do something that is transformational.”

If the plan went into effect, proponents said it would help the entire area, because a port would relieve traffic congestion and railroad congestion in the Chicago-Gary-Hammond region. State Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Merrillville) agreed. Melton said, “I see this as a great opportunity not just for Gary but the entire state….We believe that it could intercept cargo and transfer cargo at faster rates and lower cost.”