Local officials support Hard Rock

·5 min read

Oct. 7—Vigo County officials are advocating that the Indiana Gaming Commission award a casino license to Hard Rock International, which seeks the license under HR Terre Haute LLC.

The seven-member Vigo County Council submitted a letter to the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) supporting Hard Rock on Sept.22, while the three-member Vigo County Board of Commissioners, in three individual letters, submitted those on Sept. 17.

All members of the County Council signed a letter recommending Hard Rock be awarded the license "based on Hard Rock's brand recognition, the design of the facility, their operating history, and the ability to start construction almost immediately make them the best operator for our community," the Council's letter states.

"In addition, their local member (referring to Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson) has a long history of community involvement, community investment and charitable giving in our county. The same local member worked hard with our local leaders and legislators to pass House Enrolled Act 1015 and make the licensing of a casino in Vigo County possible," the council's letter states.

"The members of this partnership also invested in the effort to pass a referendum supporting gaming in our county, and we are confident that HR Terre Haute will be a true community partner. We respectfully request that the Indiana Gaming Commission award the Vigo County gaming license to HR Terre Haute LLC," the Council letter states.

Hard Rock International sent a statement to the Tribune-Star Thursday noting that Greg Gibson is a partner in the venture. The casino group did not disclose what percentage stake Gibson has.

Hard Rock International's statement from Jon Lucas, chief operating officer, said the company "is excited for the opportunity to bring our unique brand of world class entertainment to Terre Haute. We expect a development cost of nearly $200 million in addition to the 175 onsite hotel rooms, 2,000 jobs during two construction phases and $50 million a year in annual county and state tax revenue once the project is operational.

"HRI would be the management company and responsible for day to day operations. We are glad to be in this joint venture with our partner Greg Gibson, a Terre Haute native. Hard Rock would be honored to expand our presence in this region and continue to be loyal community stewards to the people of Indiana," Lucas wrote.

Gibson on Thursday said that he "is grateful for Hard Rock's commitment to this project and for extending our partnership in this way" for the Terre Haute casino proposal. "In addition, I'm truly thankful for the community's support. ...Although I will participate as a minority partner, I believe that local involvement is important and will be good for the community," Gibson said.

Gibson said he also remains a partner with Hard Rock in Gary, but is no longer in a majority ownership position at the Hard Rock Casino Northwestern Indiana.

Commissioners Mike Morris, Chris Switzer and Brendan Kearns also sent individual letters advocating for Hard Rock, with the letters making nearly identical comments.

"The residents of Vigo County overwhelmingly supported the casino as demonstrated by the November 2019 referendum in which 63 percent of the voters endorsed the project. Despite the many delays, our community remains incredibly support of this project and the prosperity it will bring to our residents," the commissioners wrote.

"In the long-term, the casino is expected to create approximately 600 permanent casino jobs and contribute $148 million, annually, in net new economic activity, including a priority emphasis on using local vendors and suppliers. In addition, the inland casino in Terre Haute will result in millions of new tax dollars, annually, for the benefit of the city (of Terre Haute), Vigo County, Vigo County School Corporation, West Central 2025 and the state of Indiana," commissioners wrote.

Additionally, the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce submitted a letter to the ICG on Sept. 20, signed by John Collett, chair of the chambers' board of directors and by Chamber President Kristin Craig.

The chamber also noted that awarding a gaming license to Hard Rock would enable an immediate start to construction of a casino.

"In addition, the construction project, which will rely heavily on local management and labor, will create over three million (dollars) in local wages, with an additional tens of millions of dollars spent with local subcontractors and suppliers," the chamber said in its letter. "The Hard Rock project is fully designed and can break ground within a mere weeks of final approval, turning on an important pipeline of economic activity in our community."

The chamber urged the ICG to "strongly consider the opinion of the community in this matter."

A total of four companies are contending for the Vigo County casino license: HR Terre Haute LLC (Hard Rock), CDITH LLC (Churchill Downs), FHR-Atlas LLC (Full House Resorts), and Terre Haute Entertainment LLC (Premier Gaming Group/Terre Haute Holdings LLC).

Also, a company owned by Gibson, Lucy Luck LLC, has an appeal pending in which it argues it should not have been denied a renewal on the Vigo County license, which it had held. A hearing before an administrative law judge is set for Dec. 2.

The Indiana Gaming Commission intends to decide Nov. 17 which company will be granted the Vigo County casino license.

Full House Resorts will present to the public its plans for a Vigo County casino and hotel, which would be called American Place Terre Haute. The presentation will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 21 at Idle Creek Banquet Center.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.

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