Gary politician suggests casino should move from lake to Little Cal

June 8, 2011

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Longtime Gary City Councilman Roy Pratt says Gary, Indiana, needs to move one of its two casino boats to a more competitive location — and it needs to do so soon.

Pratt says he’s concerned that Chicago and a southern suburb could line up their own casinos soon, and Gary’s current gambling operations face a geographical disadvantage. Right now both casinos, the Majestic I and the Majestic II, float in Lake Michigan’s Buffington Harbor. Given the 2009 closure of the Cline Avenue Bridge, it’s been difficult to route traffic from the nearby Indiana Toll Road to the harbor. Pratt said one of gambling ships should sail down to the Little Calumet River and set up near the Borman Expressway (I-80/94).

“People are traveling down 80/94, one of the busiest highways in the United States at that section,” Pratt said following Tuesday night’s Gary City Council meeting. “It’s the best site for a casino and we should take a advantage of it.” He added, “You have an additional constituency that doesn’t exist on the Indiana Toll Road.”

Pratt said the Little Cal fits the definition of where a floating casino can go, since Indiana law forbids land-based casinos.

“The Little Cal qualifies as navigable and therefore you can operate a casino along the edges and near 80/94, where 250,000 people pass by each day,” Pratt said.

But there are potential roadblocks to Pratt’s proposal. One is the Indiana Gaming Commission. The commission is responsible for regulating gambling operations, and there’s concern that a move would trigger scrutiny over gambling licenses. Currently, both of Gary’s casino licenses are held by Barden Companies, which is bankrupt and may not be allowed to open a new venture away from Buffington Harbor. Pratt said the commission could opt to award one of the two licenses to another firm.

“There mere fact that [Barden] is bankrupt means that they can’t satisfy their suitability clause. Barden hasn’t done what needs to be done in order to operate the license,” Pratt said. “We should be receiving more [money] than we’re receiving.”

Don Barden, president and CEO of Detroit-based Barden Companies, died last month at the age of 73. He death from cancer and related complications left the future direction of the company undetermined.

The Indiana Gaming Commission approved renewal of Barden’s gaming licenses last Thursday. The licenses expire in one year.