For NWI casinos, it's been 20 years and $20 billion

The history of casinos in Northwest Indiana is packed with epic characters, billion-dollar bankruptcies, corporate buyouts and continuous competitive pressure.


Trump, Barden, Binion, Harrah's and Caesars, Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Real Estate Investment Trusts they're all part of the Region's gambling story, which has actually reached its 20th anniversary this month at the Hammond and Gary casinos.

It started with Don Barden and Donald Trump negotiating their way to a shared use of Gary's Buffington Harbor for their Majestic Star and Trump Princess gambling establishments. They introduced their boats on June 11, 1996, promising grand times for their businesses and host community.

"I believe this is going to be a tremendously effective venture," Barden stated when the Gary-based boat abandoned on a preview cruise in 1996.

"You can see all individuals streaming in with smiles on their faces and money in their pockets."

"I understand Gary's had some bumpy rides for many years," Trump stated at his casino complex's 1995 groundbreaking at Buffington Harbor, "however this is actually the beginning of completion to those rough times."

While such guarantees of a bright future and fast turn-around for neighborhoods showed overly optimistic, the 2 gambling establishments in Gary and three others in the Region are still afloat and continue to fulfill oncoming challenges with new investments and progressing entertainment alternatives.

Throughout their two decades in business, the five Northwest Indiana gambling establishments have taken in more than $20 billion at their video gaming tables and slot machines, with numerous countless that reinvested in their properties and sent to state and local government in taxes and grants.

Investments 'raise the bar'

The early promises for capital investment were reasonably low: $154.5 million from Showboat in East Chicago; $153 million from Trump in Gary; $137 million from Empress in Hammond; $116 million from Majestic Star in Gary; and $87 million from Blue Chip in Michigan City, according to reports by the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

The Lake Michigan gambling establishments skip over Porter County. Voters their video gaming operations in a 1993 mandate.

While the gambling establishments have actually ridden rough waves in the economy and within their industry, operators of regional boats have actually confronted brand-new competition aggressively, while benefiting from opportunities afforded by changing state laws.

The original Empress Casino in Hammond formally open for business on June 29, 1996 was a standard boat at 43,000 square feet of video gaming space. That amounted to Gary's Majestic Star and in the middle of the pack for Indiana gambling establishments.

Simply more than a years later, Empress' successor, Horseshoe, would spend about $500 million on a new casino and entertainment complex with a video gaming floor of 108,000 square feet.

"It's been a remarkable journey from the little riverboat known as Empress that settled in this location 20 years ago to today's Horseshoe Casino," Regional President and General Manager Dan Nita said.

A modification in state law allowing dockside gambling and after that 24-hour-a-day entry and exit made the brand-new home entertainment complex possible, and Horseshoe's growth to first place in the market made it want to carry out such an ambitious job.

"We wished to raise the bar on exactly what casino entertainment might be in the location," Nita said. Consumers wanted a reasonably big, single-level casino "a Las Vegas resort feel."

The resulting video gaming, dining and theater facility likewise served Horseshoe's moms and dad company's requirements. Caesars Entertainment has nine casinos in Las Vegas, and others in places such as Lake Tahoe and New Orleans.

The Chicago location is a prime market for those gambling establishments, and the new Horseshoe Hammond allowed the company to "put our best foot forward," Nita stated, developing loyalty to the brand that vacationers may take with them.

Other Northwest Indiana gambling establishments likewise invested 10s, and even hundreds, of countless dollars in their facilities.

Ameristar was the third casino to open a hotel, behind Majestic Star and Blue Chip, but Ameristar upped the ante with its $43 million, 293-room tower along the East Chicago lakeshore in 2002. That facility would receive a $7 million upgrade a decade into its life.

And the opening of Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo nearly a decade ago was satisfied in Michigan City by Blue Chip's gleaming hotel tower and new casino. Blue Chip invested more than $300 million integrated on those projects.

Now, a Majestic Star plan to proceed land will make the most of the state's newest easing of policies, allowing the casino to build on land that's part of its initial advancement footprint.

Majestic Star started studying its Buffington Harbor property to determine the best place for a casino previously this year, and has engineers and construction experts assessing the property now "to determine which of the prospective websites within our school footprint can physically support the future building," according to Chareice White, Majestic Star's director of federal government, neighborhood and public relations.

Competitors and altering tastes

Even with the expanding accommodations, entertainment and dining features, "the vast bulk of our incomes originate from the casino floor," Horseshoe's Nita said.

An evaluation of gaming earnings over the last 20 years exposes a years of growth followed by economic crisis and post-recession years of lower revenues. Horseshoe was an outlier because its profits continued to grow at its new casino.

Overall, 2007 was the peak year, with the five Northwest Indiana casinos taking in nearly $1.3 billion in video gaming earnings. By 2015 that number had been up to $977 million.

In addition to basic financial obstacles, competitive challenges come from numerous fronts: Four Winds in Southwest Michigan and its strategies to build in South Bend; Illinois' allowance of video gambling in non-casino companies; and changing home entertainment needs, especially for younger individuals focused on social experiences and skill-based activities.

The growing importance of table games in casinos is "rather a function of the social nature of table games relative to slots," Nita said.

That demand for a more social experience can be seen in other show business, he stated. "People wish to be in a more social environment."

Casino operators are pushing slots manufacturers to integrate a social aspect as well as a skills-based element into electronic gaming, Nita said.

Amid the challenges, the gaming company continues to be robust, operators stated. As evidence, Nita indicate Horseshoe's 20-year overalls of 97 million visitors, nearly $8 billion in gaming revenue and almost $2 billion in incomes, wages and advantages.

Majestic Star's management likewise is optimistic about the future.

"The casino market in Northwest Indiana is stable, even with the decrease in profits," White stated. "Although we are in the highly competitive Midwest market, Indiana continues to be a fantastic location to operate a company."



Casino to test betting limitations


Massachusetts is set to launch today a first-in-the-nation system allowing slot players to restrict their bets, following months of planning and some pushback from the gambling market.

The objective is to avoid casual gamers from decreasing the harmful course of addiction, said Marlene Warner, executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, which is helping administer the brand-new function along with the state Gaming Commission. It isn't always meant to attend to those with major gambling problems, she said.

"It's genuinely a prevention tool," Warner said. "We want individuals to keep gambling in a manner that's healthy and safe for them, so that it does not increase to that bothersome level."

The "Play My Way" system is being piloted at Plainridge Park, the slots parlor and harness racing track in Plainville and the only operating casino in Massachusetts up until now. It might go survive on the casino's roughly 1,250 devices as quickly as June 1.

If effective, the system might be imposed by the gambling commission at 2 other state-regulated gambling establishments still in development: Wynn's Boston-area resort and MGM's Springfield one.

The federally acknowledged Mashpee Wampanoag people, which is building a resort casino on sovereign land in Taunton, states it's also evaluating "Play My Way," but decreased to state last week whether it would dedicate to carrying out anything comparable when its First Light casino opens in part in 2017.

Massachusetts casino operators and the Washington-based American Gaming Association at first voiced bookings about the scheduled system, saying such bet limiting or "play management" programs have not proven effective in Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden and other nations where they've been attempted.

However American Gaming Association spokesman Christopher Moyer said "efficient discussions" with the state gambling commission has eased the majority of the association's issues.

"Any responsible gaming tool should be targeted to help the little minority of gamers that might confront irresponsible play without damaging the entertainment experience for almost all gamers who enjoy our home entertainment experience properly," he said. "We're optimistic this tool will assist to attain this objective."

Bet restricting systems stand out from so-called "self-exclusion" policies in location at Plainridge Park and most U.S. casinos that bar registered gamblers from betting at casinos outright.

Warner stated the Massachusetts system, which is similar to one also in advancement in the Canadian province of British Columbia, likewise is not as drastic as those imposed elsewhere.

"Play My Way" is voluntary and is only being offered initially to gamers registered with the casino's reward card program.

Gamblers would never be cut off from betting. By enrolling, they just get regular, onscreen notices as they approach or reach their limit.

They also can alter their betting ceiling or unenrolled at any time.

"It's just a tool to make that individual aware of exactly what's taking place and the choices they're making." Warner said.

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