Indiana’s Terre Haute Casino Announces April 5 Grand Opening

After an extended wait, Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) has revealed the opening dates for its Terre Haute Casino Resort. On April 5, Indiana’s newest casino will host its much-anticipated grand opening event. About a month later, on May 15, the resort’s 122-room luxury hotel will welcome its first guests. CDI formerly operated the TwinSpires online gambling brand but has emerged as an opponent of iGaming since abandoning its own efforts.

Announced via its Facebook page, the casino’s first big hurrah will kick off at 10:30 a.m., April 5. From then on, the Churchill Downs-owned casino becomes Vigo County’s 24/7 gambling destination.

According to Terre Haute’s new mayor, Brandon Sakbun, it won’t just be the house winning.

In an article in the Tribune-Star, Sakbun spoke about the casino resort’s community benefits.

The incoming casino dollars will provide resources to address some of our many city services like paving, sidewalk improvement, parks upgrades, and improved equipment for city staff to deliver for the people of Terre Haute.

Terre Haute Casino Resort Long Time Coming

In the same report, Vigo County Commissioner Mark Clinkenbeard was optimistic about the casino’s impact.

We’re thrilled that we have a date for the opening of the casino, with the hotel opening to follow. We’re excited to see how this will benefit our community. This is another piece to the puzzle of economic development for Vigo County.

In a release shared online following the Facebook post, Mike Rich, THCR’s vice president & general manager, added:

Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley have waited a long time for this vision to become a reality. Churchill Downs Incorporated is excited to open one of the premier gaming destinations in the Midwest on April 5. The launch of Terre Haute Casino Resort extends beyond physical structure; it’s about creating a vibrant and integral part of this community, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to bring this exciting chapter to life.

Once complete, in addition to the casino, Terre Haute Casino Resort will offer visitors ten stories of luxury hotel accommodations.

Additionally, the resort will feature:

  • 1000 slot machines
  • 34 gaming tables
  • Nine food and drink destinations

With the new property, Indiana becomes Churchill Downs’ 14th state. The company owns and operates 13 racetracks in New Hampshire, Virginia, and Kentucky and 12 casinos in 10 additional states.

Notably, the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) ultimately awarded Churchill Downs the license to operate the new gaming facility in 2021.

However, the road to Vigo County’s casino proved long and winding.

Scandals Plague Vigo Casino Efforts

In 1993, after several failed attempts, Indiana legalized casino gambling—as long as it took place on riverboats.

Some twenty years later, in 2015, the state removed the riverboat restriction and allowed land-based gambling.

In 2018, Terre Haute resident Greg Gibson partnered with Indiana gaming executive Rod Ratcliff to form Spectacle Entertainment. Indianapolis attorney John Keeler also joined Spectacle as vice president and general counsel.

Later that same year, Spectacle acquired Majestic Star Casino, a two-boat casino operation based in Gary, Indiana. It later transferred one of its riverboat gambling licenses from Gary to Vigo after Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an omnibus gaming bill in early 2019.

The House Enrolled Act 1015 (HEA 1015) permitted the license transfer, providing Vigo’s voters approved the move. In November, residents decided 63% to 37% in favor during a casino referendum.

Soon after, Spectacle, in partnership with Hard Rock International (HRI), became the first (and only) applicant for licensure.

However, a scandal involving a federal investigation into Ratcliff and Keeler’s previous business practices resulted in the pair’s forced divestment from Spectacle.

Ultimately, Keeler and former Indiana State Senator and 2016 US Congress hopeful Brent Waller were charged and would plead guilty to federal charges alleging illegal campaign funding.

To preserve his chance to secure the Vigo casino license, Gibson established another company, Lady Luck Gaming (LLG).

Initially, the IGC awarded LLG the desired license. However, the commission declared the company ineligible for renewal by mid-2021, and LLG lost its casino rights.

Finally, in November 2021, the IGC awarded Churchill Downs the Vigo County casino license. Reportedly, this is due, at least in part, to the hefty capital investment included in its proposal.

Indiana Online Casino Aspirations Dead in 2024

Unfortunately, the expansion of CDI’s retail footprint could prove detrimental to the recent push to legalize Indiana online casinos, as the racing and casino operator is known to oppose online gambling expansion.

At a hearing in early 2023, former New Hampshire Sen. Peter Bragdon spoke on the question of online casino regulation on Churchill Downs’ behalf. During his testimony, Bragdon argued online casinos would cannibalize (or eat into ) revenues at existing retail gambling establishments.

Notably, in late December, New Hampshire took online casinos off the table in 2024. Inferentially, Bonus believes CDI to be among the retail operators stoking fears of cannibalization in other states considering online gambling, like Iowa and Indiana.

But while Churchill Downs could impact Indiana’s future online casino aspirations, another scandal involving Spectacle is behind the latest legislative speedbump.

Specifically, in November, former Indiana House Rep Sean Eberhart pled guilty to corruption charges after taking a bribe from Spectacle for support of HEA 1015.

With that plea, Eberhart effectively killed any hope of Indiana online casino legislation in 2024 as Indiana’s legislature nixed the possibility.

In a rare show of solidarity, Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray and House Speaker Todd Huston agreed gaming legislation would be a non-starter in the Hoosier state in 2024.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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