Six months after their plans were revealed, officials from Spectacle Entertainment, Hard Rock International and the northwestern Indiana City celebrated the groundbreaking last week for a $300 million land-based casino that many believe will help transform and rebuild the city.
Hard Rock Northern Indiana is to replace two currently stationed Majestic Star riverboat casinos on Lake Michigan. Construction teams will create a 200,000 square foot facility with 1,650 slots, 80 table games, six dining options, retail space and a 2,000-seat entertainment area over the next year. Eventually, it will also add a hotel with up to 300 rooms.
Under the agreement, the licence and property will be owned by Spectacle and the casino will be operated by Hard Rock
Jon Lucas, COO of Hard Rock, told Casino.org that the business was looking to expand. Hard Rock and Spectacle have applied to run a casino in Vigo County, Ind aside from the Gary project.
“These are, what we think, two good markets,” Lucas said. “Gary in particular is established… They have a database, so you’re not starting from zero, and Spectacle knows the Indiana market,” he said.
The merger brings together a gaming company with an entertainment company that operates 28 hotels and 180 restaurants in 73 countries, whose executives have been active in Indiana gaming activities for three decades.
Gary is to be the 14th casino of Hard Rock.
“You can’t discount the value of this brand,” Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said. The authority promotes the hospitality industry in Gary as well as other Lake County, Ind. communities that sit across the state line from Chicago.
The groundbreaking came just 10 days into the first term in office of Gary Mayor Jerome Prince. He compared the gathering to a group celebration of Christmas.
The reason being, Hard Rock and Spectacle officials plan to inject $20 million or more into the Gary economy annually, through tax revenue and other payments generated. Building work would generate around 1,000 jobs, and officials expect the job of the casino to rise from around 900 to 1,600.
Gary was once the Hoosier State’s second-largest town. More than 175,000 people, once associated with the steel industry, called the town their home back in 1970. The town itself takes its name from US Steel’s founding chairman, Elbert Gary.
But as the steel industry shrank, so did the people. Last year the US Census Bureau estimated that there were 75,282 people living there.
Prince calls on the city to reimagine what can become of the world. Part of that includes the empty square block just off the Frank Borman Expressway which is going to be Hard Rock’s den.
And the city looked to its past in celebrating its groundbreaking future. The Jackson 5 participated with three surviving members of the iconic pop music group. Some of the old costumes the brothers wore in concerts were featured on the stage.
At the groundbreaking, Marlon Jackson told the crowd the family met with Hard Rock officials owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida as the project was coming together. Meeting with tribal chairman Marcellus Osceola, Jackson said he knew there was something special going on.
“That’s what they’re doing here, something special, and we look forward to working in conjunction with all you guys,” Jackson said.
Prince said the Jacksons are an international brand, just like Hard Rock. He believes their participation in the project could help bring tourists to the city, but involvement by the Jacksons means more than that.
“Equally important is it’s going to engage and encourage the citizens in the city to participate a little bit more, and that is what we’re largely excited about,” the mayor said.
Hard Rock Northern Indiana’s groundbreaking comes as an already crowded Chicagoland market is looking to grow.
Lawmakers in Illinois, like Indiana, enacted last year an expanded gaming law that will add at least one casino to the Chicago suburbs and potentially more down the road in and around Chicago.
There are four State-licensed casinos in Northwest Indiana. Some venues, like the Majestic Star, are on Lake Michigan and they book the Gary boats. Hard Rock will be the only casino on the Borman Expressway, which connects directly with the southern suburbs of Chicago in Illinois, by heading inland.
“This kind of evens the playing field a little bit, from a location standpoint,” Rod Ratcliff, chairman and CEO of Spectacle Entertainment, said.
The leader of the Spectacle is no stranger to gaming at Indiana. He ran Centaur Gaming, who owned the two racinos in central Indiana, until he sold them out for $1.7 billion to Caesars Entertainment. When Indiana Grand and Hoosier Park ran along with his management team, they had no casino competition in the region.
However, when he formed Spectacle together with Greg Gibson to buy the Majestic Star and seek the inland move, Ratcliff said he and his team knew that with more people and more competition, it was a different game up north.
That meant that a partner was needed at Spectacle.
“We think Hard Rock was by far the best brand for us to bring to this type of market, with the experience that they’ve got,” Ratcliff said.