Land casino comes at a price 

Dec 13
2009

The recommendation by the Indiana Gaming Study Committee that Gary be permitted to have a land-based casino breaks new ground, so to speak, for casino gambling in Indiana.

Floating casinos were initially allowed with the understanding that cruising along the Ohio River or Lake Michigan would limit access to the casinos. Competition from other states jettisoned that idea, with passengers now allowed to come and go at will. The boats are permanently docked. The next natural evolution is to allow casinos to move to dry land.

In Gary, this means the twin casinos on the shoreline would be replaced with a single land-based casino. That must happen only with a number of strings attached, however.

* Move one license and eliminate the other. Majestic Star owner Don Barden currently holds two licenses but effectively operates the business as a single casino. If he, or whoever holds the licenses after Majestic Star emerges from bankruptcy, is allowed to build an inland casino with one of the licenses, what would happen to the other?

One option might be to allow the Indiana Gaming Commission to transfer one of those licenses to another community. That might generate additional revenue for the state and that community, but it would be an inadvisable expansion of gambling. It would be better to eliminate the second, extraneous license.

* Require a one-time fee to serve as a substantial down payment for Gary's new teaching hospital and trauma center. The casino operator couldn't pay the full $300 million cost of a new hospital to replace Methodist's Northlake facility, of course, but it could come up with enough money to jump-start the construction of the new teaching hospital Methodist and the Indiana University School of Medicine want.

As the medical school expands to four years, it should have a nearby hospital for its students and professors. At the same time, it could replace Methodist's aging facility. And the people of Gary and nearby get a good hospital.

Add the trauma center Northwest Indiana needs, and this could be a boon to getting better health care for the region.

Using the casino fee as a down payment on the new hospital is a reasonable way to make sure the hospital becomes reality.

* Protect the city of Gary's financial interests. Shutting down the existing casinos and opening another offers an opportunity for Gary officials to negotiate a cut of the take that will allow the financially beleaguered city to better serve its residents and visitors. These agreements are standard for host communities, although each agreement with the casino operator varies. Make the money available to the entire city, not for specific city council districts, so larger needs can be addressed without having to cajole council members to share "their" share of the money.

A land-based casino in Gary should be allowed only if these conditions are met.

Your opinion, please

Should a land-based casino be built in Gary?

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