Spectacle Entertainment has agreed in principal to obtain franchise rights with Hard Rock for its proposed casino in Terre Haute.

"That means the casino will be branded, so that is maybe akin to somebody having a McDonald's franchise," said John Keeler, attorney for Spectacle Entertainment. "We have a signed letter of intent.

"A big factor in this decision was the Illinois [gaming] legislation," Keeler said. "The Illinois [gaming legislation] was water over the dam. We knew we had to do something to be super competitive."

The Illinois legislature last month passed law allowing six new casinos — including in Danville, downtown Chicago and the south suburbs. It also allows slot machines and table games at horse racing tracks, expands the number of machines outside casinos and permits sports gambling. Danville is approximately 60 miles north of Terre Haute.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the legislation into state law on June 28.

Spectacle Entertainment, Keeler said, will retain ownership of casinos in Terre Haute and Gary under the Hard Rock name. In addition, in Gary, Hard Rock will also manage that casino.

The Indiana General Assembly approved a casino in Terre Haute pending approval of a referendum in Vigo County and requires an investment of at least $100 million.

A referendum will be held in Vigo County on the Nov. 5 ballot. If Vigo County voters give the go-ahead for a casino, the Indiana Gaming Commission would select the operator from among those contending for the Vigo County license.

"Our desire, both for Indiana and Terre Haute and in Gary as well, if we are successful, is to put out a first class product that is well known," Keeler said. "The [Terre Haute] casino will be appropriately sized for the market and will have the traditional things that come with a Hard Rock casino, such as Hard Rock merchandise and a Hard Rock cafe inside."

"We have a long way to go," Keeler conceded. "We still have to win the bid, but we are really excited and believe that this will really up the ante, so to speak, in terms of the quality of the product that we can put in Terre Haute."

The Hard Rock brand was acquired in 2007 by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Hard Rock corporately operates Hard Rock Cafe restaurants worldwide and has 12 casinos. The casinos are in New Jersey, Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, Florida, Nevada, Canada and in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

Until March 18 of this year, there had been a Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Indianapolis. Hard Rock International, however, closed that location when its lease expired, but it said it was open to the idea of another Hard Rock in the Indianapolis area if it could find the right location.

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

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