Park keeping promises,
moving quickly to complete casino
FLORENCE, Ind. (February 2000) Rising amid the tree-lined Ohio
River banks and corn fields in eastern Switzerland County, construction
cranes lift steel and concrete into place against a cacophony of heavy
by Don Ward
construction crane lifts concrete and steel into place as Belterra
Resort and Casino's 16-story hotel rises on the banks
of the Ohio River.
The non-stop action keeps trucks and workers busy in their
quest to complete what will soon become Indiana's fifth and final casino
complex on the Ohio River.
Hollywood Park's new Belterra Resort and Casino is scheduled to open
here in mid-August 2000.
And from the looks of things, the hotel-convention center-riverboat
casino complex will be cashing chips before the green flag falls at
the "Belterra 300" International Racing League event, set
for Aug. 27 at the new Kentucky Speedway, also under construction just
across the river.
The new casino complex sits one mile east of Markland Dam. Over the
next two years, a new highway will be built to connect the Markland
Dam bridge to I-71 in Kentucky, just a mile or so south of the Kentucky
Speedway exit at Sparta. Together, the two projects are being considered
by some as the next Gatlinburg a large entertainment mecca offering
enough variety to attract vacationers regionally and keep them occupied
for up to a week at a time.
"I see this area as becoming the next Pigeon Forge, Tenn.,"
said Gallatin County, Ky., attorney Larry Lawrence, who sold 170 acres
to create the Kentucky Speedway. He and a partner, meanwhile, are building
a motel, restaurant and bar on the opposite side of I-71 from the speedway
(see Page X).
"Certainly, there are a lot of cross-promotional opportunities
available between the two," said said Kentucky Speedway spokeswoman
Lisa Wilson. "They're building a large tourism destination like
we are, and we're only a few miles apart."
Belterra's sponsorship of the Kentucky Speedway's premiere race in its
inaugural season is only the beginning of their future marketing alliance,
according to officials from the Los Angeles-based Hollywood Park, which
owns the new casino along with eight others.
"There are tremendous opportunities here for both of us,"
said Michael Allen, Hollywood Park's senior vice president and chief
operating officer of the gaming division.
"We'll be doing lots of things with the track because it adds a
whole new dimension of entertainment," said Allen, who has helped
open 10 casinos. "I think people will enjoy what we're creating
here and will be proud of it."
Indeed, the casino complex feature much more than a bed, board, a bar
Guests will be able to dine at a steakhouse, seafood restaurant or 400-seat
buffet. They can sip hot java at the coffee shop and deli, browse retail
stores and a gourmet bakery, relax in the spa, spoil themselves with
a massage or tee off on a Tom Fazio-designed 18-hole golf course.
On weekends, they can attend concerts or Broadway-type shows in the
1,500-seat theater, featuring nationally known artists and entertainers.
Two meeting rooms will provide corporate and civic groups a place to
hold seminars and conferences.
And, of course, there's the casino. Like its neighbors to the east and
west on the Ohio River, the riverboat casino will operate in two-hour
cruises from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. on
"It's going to be a true resort," said Belterra general manager
John Spina, 50, who previously worked 14 months at Hyatt-Grand Victoria
Casino in nearby Rising Sun. "And once we add the 18-hole championship
golf course (in the fall of 2001), it will be a regional destination
resort. Gaming will be another part of the resort that adds to the entertainment
"We're trying to give people who stay here as much variety as possible."
Spina, of Vineland, N.J., has worked in the gaming and hospitality industry
for 19 years, starting in 1981 at Harrah's Casino in Atlantic City,
N.J. He is excited to be with Hollywood Park, which he considers "a
very strong and growing company."
More than 300 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony in mid-July.
Since then, good weather has helped keep the Belterra project on schedule,
said Cliff Kortman, director of design and construction.
"The glass has arrived for the exterior of the building, and the
skin is going on now. We topped the hotel the last week in December,"
The pavilion steel is 70 percent complete, he added, and the parking
garage is nearly finished. "With no weather delays, we should start
dredging the harbor in early February," Kortman said.
by Don Ward
can be seen from the
Ky. side of the Ohio River.
Having already built five other casino complexes, the
Arizona native said the pressure of meeting construction deadlines doesn't
"I'm sure it would if we were behind schedule," he joked.
"But we haven't had any big issues to resolve on this project.
There have been no architectural impacts or surprises."
Job-seekers already are searching out the employment office in downtown
Vevay to sign up for one of the 1,400 positions necessary to operate
the massive complex.
"I already work in security at a casino, but I'm here looking for
better pay and better management," said Steve Haynes of Louisville.
He was accompanied by Brian Arnett, a casino cage operator.
But with four other casinos plying the Ohio River waters, Spina admitted
that finding employees will be a competitive venture. Belterra plans
to hold or participate in more than 40 job fairs in the tri-state region
over the next several months. The list includes its own job fair Feb.
26-28 at the Ogle Haus Inn, which Hollywood Park bought in October to
use as a temporary staging area until the new resort opens. Belterra
officials also are scheduled to participate in a career fair being planned
by Carrollton, Ky. economic development officials on March 11 at the
Carroll County High School.
"It is a challenge because the employment rate is so low. But we
have come up with some creative strategies for attracting people that
I think will help," Spina said, without elaborating.
One employment incentive an on-site daycare facility has
been put on hold, however, because of the extensive licensing procedures
Newly hired human resources director Max Hegawalt and manager Anna Chapman
both have extensive experience in the gaming industry and are planning
Belterra's employee hiring and training effort. Training sessions will
be conducted at a leased building on Main Street in Vevay until the
new facility opens. The building, known locally as the 7-Up building,
is currently being renovated and should be ready for use by mid-March,
"We'll also be hiring a training coordinator and benefits coordinator,"
Switzerland County, meanwhile, stands to reap $75 million in tax money
over the next five years, plus the economic boon and growth necessary
to accommodate the herds of visitors expected to come. Not bad for a
county that for years has ranked near the bottom, economically, in the
"This is an ideal location for it, and the track and casino are
already working together, and that should be a plus for the region,"
said Jim Allison, president of the Switzerland County Commission.
Allison said Hollywood Park has made good on its promises for up front
money and advances to help improve roads and schools, buy highway trucks,
snow plows, a grader, police cars and fund new sheriff's deputies, and
build a much-needed medical clinic (see box).
Money earmarked for the county 4-H program, however, has been put on
hold since Purdue University, which administers the program, in January
ordered chapters around Indiana not to accept casino donations.
"We're working on a way to get around that so that the money can
get to them some way," Allison said.
by Don Ward
of Belterra begins to take shape.
An Illinois native, Allison has been studying Midwest
casino activity in recent months and predicted that by the time Belterra
opens, the Indiana Gaming Commission may eliminate its rule that casinos
must cruise. The entry fees may also be dropped.
"Illinois just went to that, and they are taking in 25 percent
more money, while the Indiana casinos on Lake Michigan are down 25 percent,"
Allison said. "I think something will be done soon in Indiana to
Although Switzerland County's financial future looks bright, in the
lean months until the casino opens, local tourism officials have been
negotiating with Hollywood Park for financial help to offset the loss
in bed tax revenues caused by the company's recent purchase of the 15-year-old
The 54-room resort in Vevay had accounted for nearly all of the county's
tourism income to operate the Switzerland County Welcome Center downtown,
pay employees and fund new brochures. But Hollywood Park is using the
rooms for offices and relocating its own employees. Therefore, no taxes
are being collected.
The county was getting about $35,000 annually in taxes from the resort,
with the rest coming from a six-room bed and breakfast and the Tri-County
Club nudist camp. The Ogle Haus' previous owner had failed to pay the
tax last year, but the county recouped most of that money as part of
the terms of the sale.
Hollywood Park has offered to pay a monthly advance of $3,000 to the
county until the casino revenues begin coming in. The money would later
be deducted from the county's share of revenue.
"We're satisifed with that arrangement, since they didn't have
to give us anything," said Patty Williams, president of the Switzerland
County Tourism Commission.
Welcome Center executive director Ann Mulligan said, "We may not
be able to do everything that we wanted to do, but we won't close. We've
been at this too long."
The situation may not last long. Once the Belterra Hotel opens, Hollywood
Park officials will be moving into their new offices there. Plus, new
bed tax revenues will be generated from the Belterra Hotel rooms.
The Ogle Haus, meanwhile, will be "spruced up" and re-open
to the public, Spina said.
The company already has bought new furniture for the main lobby, remodeled
the deck and restaurant, and added new carpet in many areas. A new chef
has also been hired, and the restaurant has remained open to the public.
Officially, the hotel is still open, but there are seldom any vacancies.
"When we move out, the Ogle Haus will get some new paint and wall
coverings," Spina said. "We would like to use it for overflow
for Belterra, but we are leaving our options open (regarding possibly
The company plans to hire a director of hotel operations soon who would
oversee both lodging facilities.
Meanwhile, it is uncertain what impact the opening of Belterra will
have on casino competition for gamblers in the area. Last year, Argosy
Casino in Lawrenceburg was the leader in gross revenue among Indiana's
nine casinos with $308 million, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission's
recent report. Caesar's Glory of Rome Casino grossed $157 million from
4 million gamblers, down from a pre-opening projection of $210 million
Hollywood Park officials predict annual gross revenues of $xx for Belterra.
Spina said the county should be excited about the new casino for many
"A project like this creates a ripple effect with employment,"
Spina said. "It brings more money into the community, it spurs
growth in real estate and in the sale of gas and groceries. Such an
impact has had extremely positive effects on other communities.
"Just look at what happened in Rising Sun."
Back to February 2000