Illinois casino bill has Indiana nervous

October 18, 2011

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Gary Mayor Rudy Clay says Indiana should embrace land-based casinos.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s announcement that he supports a Chicago casino and one in the south suburbs has some politicos in Northwest Indiana worried. That’s because Northwest Indiana’s five floating casinos on Lake Michigan depend heavily on customers from Illinois.

Gary Mayor Rudy Clay says one way to keep Illinois gamblers crossing the border is to build land-based casinos.

“We should have gone land-based long time ago. It should have been land-based the first time. We never should have been on the water,” Clay told WBEZ Tuesday. “Indiana has got to come into the 21st century and start building land-based casinos.”

Gary’s lakefront is home to two casinos, the Majestic Star I and II.

Clay’s been pushing Indiana lawmakers to approve land-based casinos for the last several years but each time, lawmakers decline passage.

One of the reasons may be that not all Northwest Indiana politicians are on board with land-based casinos.

For example, the mayor of Hammond, Thomas McDermott Jr., has come out opposed to land-based casinos, primarily because his city’s casino, Horseshoe, has invested $500,000 in recent years to upgrade its property on Lake Michigan.

Nonetheless, Clay, who will leave office in January, says building land-casinos is the only way to stay competitive with a casino built in Chicago, one built in a south suburb like Harvey, or both.

“Chicago is going to take some revenues out of Indiana. I can’t blame the governor of Illinois. He’s trying to bring money to Illinois,” Clay said. “We should be trying to bring money to Indiana.”

Clay says a land-based casino provides an experience that's different from that of a floating casino.

“On a land-based casino, you feel like you’re in Las Vegas. But a riverboat is what it is: It’s a boat. You don’t feel the Las Vegas-aura there,” Clay says. “It makes economic sense. It means more money for the state of Indiana and more people coming out of Illinois.”

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he’s open to the idea of land-based casinos.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he supports a scaled-back version of a casino bill Illinois lawmakers proposed to him.

Quinn supports five new casinos in and around Chicago but opposes slot machines at area airports, racetracks and the Illinois State Fairgrounds.