Vevay Las Vegas

Hollywood Park keeping promises,
moving quickly to complete casino

By Don Ward

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 machinery.

Belterra Construction

Photo by Don Ward

A 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 and Blackjack.
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 weekends.
"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 experience.
"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," he said.
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.


Photo by Don Ward

Belterra 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 bother him.
"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 involved.
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, Hegawalt said.
"We'll also be hiring a training coordinator and benefits coordinator," he said.
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 state.
"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.

Abner McCollum

Photo by Don Ward

Construction 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 remedy that."
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 Ogle Haus.
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 selling it)."
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 annually.
Hollywood Park officials predict annual gross revenues of $xx for Belterra.
Spina said the county should be excited about the new casino for many reasons.
"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 Articles.



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