Hoosier Casinos Brace for Illinois Challengers

While much has been discussed about the competition Indiana casinos may face from newcomers in Ohio, Illinois gaming is also striving to compete. The Times of Northwest Indiana reports on how casinos in "the region" are preparing for competition from the Chicago area:

Illinois’ gambit to embark on a wholesale expansion of gambling with five new casinos, including one in Chicago and one in the south suburbs, is being carefully watched by those with a stake in the success of Northwest Indiana’s five casinos.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said he thinks a casino in the south suburbs would be more of a competitor for Horseshoe than a downtown Chicago casino. But anyone who wants to compete with the Hammond boat will have his work cut out for him.

"In reality, at the end of the day, even if we have a boat on the other side of the border, it will have to stack up against Horseshoe and that will not be easy to do," McDermott said.

Horseshoe is Indiana’s gaming heavyweight, with its annual revenues of more than $500 million per year accounting for about one-fifth of the state’s total gaming revenues.

Horseshoe generates more than $35 million in tax and revenue share for the city of Hammond, which has used the money to transform entire neighborhoods with new streets, sidewalks, sewers and even moderate-income housing.

The other Northwest Indiana casinos are Ameristar in East Chicago, Majestic Star I and Majestic Star II in Gary, and Blue Chip in Michigan City. In Illinois, Ford Heights has a powerful coalition working to land the south suburban gaming license.

South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Speros Batistatos agreed Horseshoe is well positioned to withstand any onslaught but said that is not the case with Northwest Indiana’s other casinos.

He said the Four Winds Casino Resort, which opened in 2007 in New Buffalo, Mich., has demonstrated the effect cross-border gaming can have on Northwest Indiana’s casinos.

However, Batistatos feels the real challenge to Northwest Indiana boats from Illinois would come from a downtown Chicago casino and not one in the south suburbs.

"You can say what you want about Hammond, East Chicago and Gary," Batistatos said. "But I don’t know anyone that is going to drive to Ford Heights, even if you plop Caesar’s Palace there."

Northwest Indiana casinos have been combating the competition from Michigan and Illinois with new facilities and improved amenities.

Ohio Casinos Will Diminish Indiana Winnings

The fifth time was the charm for supporters of gaming in Ohio. Voters had rejected the approval of casinos in Ohio four times over the last couple decades, but apparently the Buckeye State’s fiscal concerns trumped the opposition as the referendum to allow land-based gambling operations in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo was approved with 53% of the vote in November’s election. Gaming in Ohio will certainly help that state with its revenue problems, but will just as certainly make Indiana’s fiscal picture worse by cutting into our gaming tax revenues.

Indiana currently receives about $250 million dollars a year from three riverboats that are within a short drive of Cincinnati. It is estimated that up to 38% of the riverboat patrons come from out of state. The Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg and Grand Victoria Casino & Resort in Rising Sun are just minutes from Cincinnati and could both be seriously impacted by a casino there. The Belterra Casino Resort & Spa in Vevay is a little further down the Ohio River, but likely would also feel the effects.

Additionally, the other casinos could draw away some of the traffic at the already greatly suffering Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Anderson. All told, Indiana gaming tax revenues could drop by as much as $100 million. These likely future losses to Indiana follow the losses now being experienced at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City due to the opening of a new tribal casino last year just across the border in Michigan. In addition, Kentucky could well be the next state to siphon off revenues as the pressure mounts to allow slots at its horse tracks.

Bottom line: As more players enter the game, Indiana’s share of the winnings is sure to diminish.