Vigo Commissioners OK local development deal with Hard Rock

Tribune-Star illustration/James Willis

The Vigo County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a local development agreement with HR Terre Haute LLC (Hard Rock).

The agreement, required by the Indiana Gaming Commission to award a gaming license in the county, indicates that 3% of adjusted gross receipts and 3% of the casino operator's net commission received from any sports wagering vendor would be paid to the city of Terre Haute.

That agreement is essentially the same as with the former Spectacle Jack and later Lucy Luck Gaming.

"So with the LDA [local development agreement] in place, which is a mirror of what it was last time around, it was important for [Hard Rock] to get started immediately if they get selected," Commissioner Chris Switzer said. "If it is not Hard Rock, we are certainly ready and willing to work with any [casino operator] that is selected."

Hard Rock requested the local development agreement and no other casino operator has sought such an agreement, Switzer said.

"Hard Rock came to us and asked us to sign an LDA, and because of that local support with Greg, Mr. Gibson, and Hard Rock being shovel ready day one, and this is something that should have started months ago and should be open right now as far as I am concerned, we are excited for them [Hard Rock] and hopefully they get selected," Switzer said.

Tonya Abeln, vice president of communications and president of Churchill Downs Foundation, said the casino operator did seek a local development agreement "in productive and proactive conversations to make sure that it addressed the needs of the community and was met with approval from the Board of Commissioners."

Abeln said Churchill Downs sent a draft of an LDA proposal to the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 26 for review and feedback to be shared with Commissioners and a local casino task force. Churchill Downs received feedback on that agreement on Sept. 14 and Sept. 17.

The feedback included "that [the Chamber-headed casino committee] would need to get the LDA reviewed by an attorney before signing," Abeln said, adding that ultimately, Churchill Downs did not obtain a signed agreement.

The feedback wasn't from commissioners, Switzer said, adding the board of commissioners later determined to move forward with Hard Rock.

Commissioner President Mike Morris said the Hard Rock agreement "would generate about $4.6 million to the city if the casino is located within city limits, so that is very important to them."

Additionally, a supplemental wagering tax, formerly called an admission tax, is estimated to generate $2.6 million.

"The agreement calls for 40% of [those revenues] going to the city of Terre Haute; 30% to Vigo County; 15% to the Vigo County School Corp. and 15% to West Central 2020, which in essence is the [Terre Haute] Chamber of Commerce," Morris said.

That would:

• Provide the city of Terre Haute, at 40%, with an additional more than $1 million.

• Vigo County government at 30% with $780,000.

• Vigo County School Corp. at 15%, with $390,000.

• West Central 2025, a regional economic development effort through the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, at 15% with $390,000.

Additionally, an estimated $2.7 million to $3 million would go to the Vigo County Community Improvement Foundation Inc., a nonprofit with a five-member board, with members including one from the Vigo County Council; one from the Terre Haute City Council; one from the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce; and two members from the casino operator.

That board would then disperse funds to local organizations which seek funding assistance.

Switzer said the agreement "means if on Nov. 17 that Hard Rock happens to get selected [by the Indiana Gaming Commission for a Vigo County casino license] they could go forward Nov. 18, if they want to, with a groundbreaking, because we have done everything we are supposed to do as a county to make sure things are ready to roll for them."

Switzer said commissioners "don't know if the [LDA] will help or hurt [Hard Rock's chances]. We are just trying to make a good decision on who we would like to work with, and at the end of the day, they [Indiana Gaming Commission] will make that selection and it has nothing to do with us. We can throw our support where we want, but it is up to the Indiana Gaming Commission," Switzer said.

Additionally, commissioners approved a resolution in support of HR Terre Haute LLC. The resolution is similar to one adopted by the Vigo County Council, however with different numbers. Like the County Council, commissioners cite a $190 million investment from Hard Rock, but also state the project "will create approximately 2,058 new union construction jobs, 674 permanent casino jobs and contribute $148 million in new net economic activity."

The County Council's resolution states the same casino project as "creating approximately 650 union construction jobs, 750 permanent casino jobs and annually contribute $150 million in new new economic activity."

"Hard Rock is the applicant this time around, instead of Spectacle Jack or Lucy Luck, and we support Greg [Gibson]," Switzer said. "We support Greg's investments in this community and we support what Greg will do further in this community and having those local ties means a lot to us, and that is why we decided to go with Hard Rock," Switzer said.

Commissioner Mike Morris said he met with all four casino operators seeking the license through meetings with the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce. Commissioner Brendan Kearns said he did not meet with all four casino entities, but said he met with Churchill Downs and Premiere Gaming Group, but "this is the same LDA I signed last time, so I am good with it."

Morris added he "did not meet with Hard Rock to iron out any of this agreement, nor any of the other entities," but said he would also support the local agreement.

Three other casino operators have applied for the Vigo County license. They include CDITH LLC (Churchill Downs); FHR-Atlas LLC (Full House Resorts Inc.); and Terre Haute Entertainment LLC (Premier Gaming Group and Terre Haute Entertainment Holdings LLC).

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

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