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Clark County Gambling

Gambling referendum passed
in Clark County sets off controversy

Rising Sun goes on the defensive to protect its riverboat

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

(December 2006) – On Nov. 7, voters in Clark County, Ind., passed a referendum to legalize gambling in their county. This was the third time the issue had come before citizens; it had been defeated twice before in 1993 and 1995.
Now, after a 10-year moratorium in their county on any vote on the issue, residents have come to see the economic benefits of having a casino, with few of the negative effects opponents had predicted. The county sits directly across the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky.

Jim Keith

Jim Keith

“Why would anyone object to over $100 million in tax revenue and 2,500 new jobs with thousands more construction jobs due to new projects?” asks Jim Keith rhetorically. Keith is the executive director of the Clark-Floyd Convention and Visitors Bureau. He said the referendum has created an economic excitement in the community.
However, approval doesn’t mean that Clark County is about to get a boat anytime soon. Indiana’s 1993 casino-gambling law authorized five riverboats on Lake Michigan and five on the Ohio River, with another designated for Orange County. The Indiana Gaming Commission has already authorized all 11 licenses for riverboat casinos, so it would seem implausible that Clark County could ever get a boat – unless the Gaming Commission were to approve moving an existing license or creating a 12th license.
But the very idea of relocating an existing riverboat license already has set off a firestorm of controversy since the election. Speculation is running rampant about the possibility of getting a boat to relocate to Clark County in light of the announcement in early fall that Hyatt Hotels & Resorts will sell its Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun. Rising Sun officials, meanwhile, said they will fight any move to relocate their casino riverboat.
In the days following the election, the Indiana Gaming Commission has said it has the authority to relocate a license from one community to another, although it has never been done. Rising Sun Mayor Bill Marksberry played down that idea.
“The license for our boat is issued to the city of Rising Sun and is site specific.” He said the referendum should have no impact on his community. “It is just purely coincidental that the boat has been put up for sale at the same time the referendum went to the voters of Clark County.”
Marksberry noted that several of the riverboat casinos, including the Argosy in Lawrenceburg, Ind., have been sold and stayed in their original communities.
“Clark County has already had two tries at getting a boat, and if they really wanted one, they should have voted 10 years ago to get one.”
According to Marksberry, his community has had a good partnership with the Grand Victoria, and that both sides have followed all of the laws in effect and have benefited. Tammy Elbright, director of Historic Downtown Rising Sun Main Street Program, said, “Our relationship should really be the poster child for all communities and casinos.”
She said Rising Sun, which is located in Ohio County, has a good revenue sharing program with surrounding counties, including Ripley and Dearborn. The city used to share revenue with Switzerland County until that county got its own boat, Belterra Casino Resort & Spa.
“We set the bar for revenue sharing in riverboat gaming; the wealth brought in gets spread around,” she said.
Rising Sun has used its share of revenue to improve roads and bridges, build additions to its schools, improve parks and renovate City Hall. “We have basically boosted the quality of life in this area,” Elbright said.
A loss of the boat would be purely devastating to the city and the region, she said. Rising Sun was picked because of its low to moderate income.
Sherry Timms, Rising Sun’s tourism director, said the worst problem would be the extensive loss of jobs if the casino relocated. The boat employs about 900 people, and many of those are locals. The population of Rising Sun is about 2,500.
She also said the boat brings nearly 1.3 million tourists a year to the city, mainly from the Ohio cities of Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, and it generates about $6 million a year for the city in revenue and about $2.6 million for the county. “It would be very difficult to find a tourism replacement with that kind of draw,” she said.
While Rising Sun officials say they are confident their boat will not move after the sale, they all agree the city will not sit idly by and do nothing if there is an attempt to relocate the Grand Victoria to another community.
“Of course we will fight,” said Marksberry.
Clark County’s Keith, meanwhile, said he believes the Indiana Gaming Commission does have the right to transfer a license, and that is what Clark County is looking to do. “We will get a boat because somebody will transfer.”

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