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Future Gambling Underway

Casino groundbreaking marks
new era for Switzerland County

By DON WARD
Editor


FLORENCE, Ind. – After six years of frustrating setbacks, Switzerland County is finally getting its casino.

Belterra Groundbreaking

Photo by Don Ward

(From left) Vevay Town Council member
Hibert Scudder, Hollywood Park CEO
Paul Alanis, Vevay Town Council
member Katharine Deems and casino
co-owner John House turn the dirt
July 14 at the future site of Belterra
Resort and Casino.
The casino,
scheduled to open in August 2000,
will feature a 15-story hotel
(inset) and 18-hole golf course.

More than 300 people gathered July 14 on the banks of the Ohio River a few miles east of Vevay, Ind., for a groundbreaking ceremony staged by Hollywood Park officials. The $165 million venture, which had been stalled in recent years by casino company merges and referendums in neighboring counties, will be named Belterra Resort and Casino, it was announced.
The project represents the last of five riverboat casinos Indiana is allowing on the Ohio River and will be located just a short drive from casinos in Rising Sun and Lawrenceburg.
In addition to a riverboat casino and pavilion, the 270-acre complex will include a 15-story, 300-room hotel, a restaurant, retail stores, parking garage and a Tom Fazio-designed public golf course.
The riverboat casino, not yet built, will house 38,000 square feet of gaming space, with room for 1,300 electronic gaming machines and 55 table games.
Construction is expected to generate 700 new jobs; the casino itself will create 1,400 jobs, officials said.
When opened in August 2000, the casino is expected to draw 1.5 millions million visitors a year, generating $15 million annually for what had been Indiana’s third poorest county. The golf course, however, won’t be ready until April 2001.
“The language in the 1993 legislation that allowed riverboat gambling in Indiana was to help economically distressed areas. And though we believe we should have been among the first (to get a riverboat license), we are no less thankful,” said Mike Jones, president of the Switzerland County Council.
Jones was referring to the Indiana Gaming Commission’s first round of awarding riverboat casino licenses in 1994, during which Switzerland County was passed over.
“With the revenues of a riverboat casino, we will be able to do more than we ever thought imaginable,” Jones told the enthusiastic crowd.
The county already has received thousands of dollars from Hollywood Park and plans to use it to purchase new road paving equipment. “My goal is to have every road in the county blacktopped within 10 years,” announced Switzerland County Commission president Jim Allison.
The county school system has already received $400,000 to help with school building debt and expects to receive about $11 million over the next five years.
With additional money from the casino, the county plans to build a state-of-the-art medical clinic and boost funding of its emergency medical services, police and fire departments, and schools.
Switzerland County’s neighbors in Jefferson, Crawford and Ripley counties will also benefit in a negotiated revenue-sharing plan. Those counties could receive annual income of $1 million, $1 million and $500,000, respectively.
But the obstacles to financial freedom are not over. Casino developers are still awaiting approval on permit applications to state environmental officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the riverbank to harbor their riverboat.
Nevertheless, they remain optimistic.
“We have every indication that the applications will be approved very soon,” said Steve Smith, a Louisville attorney and former Corps employee who has overseen the application process.
“Most of the concerns involved archaeology and the creation of new wetlands to offset what we need to do to dredge the harbor,” he said.
The area where the boat will be moored has been a popular fishing spot and wildlife area that was created when the Markland Dam was built, forming a slough. Smith said the Corps' concerns have been resolved through concessions by Hollywood Park. For instance, the company has agreed to create twice the amount of lost wetlands and plant 2.5 acres of hardwood trees to act as a buffer to the newly created wildlife zone.
Around the town of Vevay, residents are welcoming the new casino with guarded optimism, since most concede that Belterra will change their tranquil home. Nevertheless, most admit the county needs the money. The question is what – if anything – the casino will do for local business and tourism.
In other communities with casinos, the local community has been on its own regarding business growth, since a casino's mission is to keep gamblers gambling for as long as possible. That mission is demonstrated by clockless and windowless gambling halls.
And since Hollywood Park's casino will be located several miles upriver from Vevay, attracting tourists to downtown may be an even bigger challenge.
"We're very excited about this, and we've waited a long time for it," said Ann Mulligan, executive director of the Switzerland County Welcome Center. She added that no one knows what impact the casino will have on the community.
Local real estate agents Kay Brindley and Teresa Bovard-Lyons predict continued increases in land prices, but they believe the prices would have risen without the casino because of hunters and developers.
In the last 15 years, land prices along the Ohio River have jumped from $500 to $1,500 per acre. The county's tillable farmland has remained steady at around $3,000 per acre.
"We'll see some growth around Florence," Bovard-Lyons said. "Most of the people who come in on the ground floor of these casinos – the start-up people – only stay for a couple of years and then move on to their next project, so most of them will probably rent. So I don't think we'll see an immediate growth in residential building."
Brindley said local growth has been spurred by "people moving out of the city." However, she predicted increased real estate buying activity around the casino itself.
Both agreed the availability of new jobs and wage increases among local residents could generate more residential buying activity in the future.
"Once everything is in place, I think it's going to be overwhelming," Bovard-Lyons said.
Madison Mayor Al Huntington attended the groundbreaking "as a show of support for Switzerland County because they've supported us since Day 1."
The mayor is worried about the wear on the roads by people traveling through Jefferson County to get to the casino, but added that he plans to use the annual million-dollar payments to maintain the roads. He also plans to add the casino to his list of reasons why the state should convert Hwy. 56 into a "super-two" highway connecting Madison with I-65. A super-two highway would have wide shoulders and turning lanes at busy intersections for passing.
"Madison is Indiana's only city over 10,000 that is more than 10 miles from an interstate," Huntington said. "There are federal highway dollars available right now, and the state is showing a lot of interest."
He added that even if approved, it would take eight to 10 years to complete.
Hollywood Park is a diversified company that owns or operates eight casinos, two pari-mutuel horse racing facilities and two card club casinos in Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana, California, Arizona and Argentina.

Correspondent Barbara Fluegeman contributed to this report.

Back to August 1999 Articles.

 

 

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