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Terre Haute: Don't Call It a Casino Bill. We've Been Here for Years.

Terre Haute, Gary mayors seek to reframe gambling debate as economic development issue as bill enters crunch time

(INDIANAPOLIS) - Two cities would get new casinos as part of the legislature's big gambling bill. Their mayors are urging lawmakers not to think of it as a casino bill.

Legislators are negotiating over a bill to authorize casino gambling in Terre Haute for the first time, and move Gary's casino downtown. Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson say legislators shouldn't get distracted by what Freeman-Wilson calls the "shiny object" of gambling, even though it's the focus of every page of the bill. They say they've always viewed the bill as an economic development measure.

Bennett says the effort to reframe the debate doesn't mean the bill is in trouble. But he says Terre Haute has been lobbying for a casino for three years. With the proposal closer to succeeding than it's ever been, he says he wants to make sure it gets to the finish line.

Freeman-Wilson says the economic benefits in Gary's case aren't limited to the relocation of the casino to the i-80/94 interchange, though she acknowledges the new $300 million casino would be an economic boon in itself. She says Gary's main focus is the shipping hub the city hopes to develop on the lakefront where the current casino is.

Critics argue the plans for that hub are still more ideas than firm commitments. Freeman-Wilson says one company has publicly committed to the lakefront, and says talks are in the works to lure more once the casino is out of the way. World Trade Center Indianapolis president Doris Anne Sadler says Gary's combination of rail and port opportunities, plus its proximity to Chicago, make it a prime location for the shipping industry.

Legislators are trying to iron out multiple differencesm, including whether to charge the owner of Gary's Majestic Star Casino a fee to relocate, how to select a casino operator for Terre Haute, the mechanics of sports betting in Indiana, when to allow live dealers at the two racetrack casinos, and whether to compensate other Lake County casinos who fear the Gary relocation will siphon away customers.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett (R, left) and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson (D) (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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