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Indiana Casinos Set to Go Dockside

12 August 2002

You just had to know this one was coming. Riverboat casinos in Indiana are set to go dockside. It'll open up a whole new playing field in the Chicago-area gaming market in light of the fact that gambling properties in Illinois have enjoyed the dockside advantage for the last three years.

The stage was set for the elimination of cruise schedules and boarding times for gambling boats in the Hoosier State by the Indiana General Assembly, which passed the law as part of the overall budget bill. The gaming commission has a target date of Oct. 1 for the start of dockside gambling.

The Chicago-area gambling market is unusual in the respect that the eight casino options that are available to us exist in different states that operate under different rules and regulations.

On the Illinois side there's Hollywood Casino in Aurora, Grand Victoria in Elgin, and Empress and Harrah's in Joliet.

On the Indiana side in the northwest region of the state there's Horseshoe in Hammond, Harrah's in East Chicago, and Trump and Majestic Star in Gary.

For many people who live in metropolitan Chicago, the Indiana casinos are actually closer and more convenient.

The Illinois casinos took a hit when riverboat gambling debuted in Indiana in 1996, the Joliet properties in particular. There was plenty room for growth and expansion among a population eager to gamble, however, and the industry in both states flourished.

It became advantage Illinois in 1999 when dockside gambling was approved. Gamblers in Illinois could board the vessels anytime and were free to come and go as they pleased, while Indiana remained shackled with boarding time restrictions and a schedule that any would-be visitor had to keep in mind when making travel plans.

Not having to concern themselves with "odd hour boarding times" or "even hour boarding times" will make the four riverboat casino destinations in Northwest Indiana more attractive to Chicago-area gamblers and will most certainly generate a spike in business, much the same as it did in Illinois.

The Indiana General Assembly did throw a bit of a monkey wrench into the dockside legislation bill, at least as far as the casino owners are concerned. It adopted a graduated tax on the casinos up to 35 percent for revenue over $150 million, a sharp increase from the current wagering tax of 20 percent. However, it gave the casinos the option of taking a 22.5 percent wagering tax IF they continue to cruise.

Will all 10 riverboat casino properties in Indiana elect to accept the heftier graduated tax in return for going dockside? Some industry lobbyists have predicted none of them will, but there has been interest expressed on behalf of the casino owners.

Obviously the tax plan will inflict a greater burden on the larger boats, which are capable of generating much higher revenue than the smaller boats. The opportunity to eliminate boarding times and cruise schedules is just too attractive for them to pass up, particularly the properties that are in the Chicago-area gambling market.

The birth of dockside gambling in Illinois paved the way for two properties, Harrah's Joliet and Hollywood Casino Aurora, to abandon riverboat operations in favor of permanent barge facilities that for all practical purposes creates for gamblers the illusion of a land-based facility.

Don't look for a similar trend in Indiana in the wake of its pending dockside gambling plan. Jack Thar, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, has expressed his desire that the Indiana casino owners maintain their properties to preserve the character of the boat. He has said that he doesn't want to see the riverboats converted into structures.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp