Thousands Flock to Terre Haute As $300M Indiana Casino Opens

Thousands Flock to Terre Haute As $300M Indiana Casino Opens
Fact Checked by Pat McLoone

Five years of waiting finally came to an end in Terre Haute on Friday as the west central Indiana city celebrated the grand opening of the Hoosier State’s newest casino. Area residents - ss well as many others who enjoy casinos and Indiana sports betting - were more than ready to celebrate.

The Terre Haute Casino Resort, a $300 million development by Churchill Downs Inc., opened to visitors at 10:30 a.m., but the crowd started gathering well before then. By the time the doors opened, all of the more than 1,400 parking spaces were filled, and many more sought to park wherever they could to get in.

“I wish I had 14,000,” General Manager and Vice President Mike Rich told Friday.

Friday’s opening was just the first phase of the resort, which features 1,000 slot machines and electronic games, 36 table games, a sportsbook, five restaurants, and six bars. Its 122-room hotel is slated to open next month, and the rooftop pool and bar will open later this summer.

Even with thousands of visitors heading to the region this weekend in anticipation of Monday’s eclipse, which will hit Terre Haute shortly after 3 p.m., Rich said there are no regrets about not having the hotel opening now.

“We’re excited about the fact that we get to staff up, train, get our feet wet by just getting ourselves ready with the casino and then be able to add that hotel piece on,” he said.

End of a ‘Long Road’

Plans for a Terre Haute casino have been in the works since 2019. That year, the Indiana General Assembly passed an expanded gaming bill. In addition to legalizing retail and online sports betting, the measure also freed up a casino license by allowing Spectacle Entertainment to relocate its two-boat Majestic Star Casino on Lake Michigan to an inland site in Gary. Each boat needed a separate license, and lawmakers gave Vigo County and its population of more than 100,000 people the first crack at the 13th and newly available license.

Voters in November 2019 overwhelmingly approved a referendum allowing a casino to be built.

The project, though, did hit a few snags after that. Spectacle, which was partnering with Hard Rock International, was the only bidder for the license.

In early 2020, Spectacle executives were the targets of an Indiana Gaming Commission investigation after they were identified as participants in a scheme to funnel campaign contributions to an Indiana congressional candidate. Two Spectacle executives, including its founder and CEO Rod Ratcliff, had to be removed from the project for it to proceed, with Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson taking the lead.

That proposed casino failed to get off the ground, leading the IGC to revoke the license in the summer of 2021. Gibson sued, but eventually both sides reached a settlement, and Gibson had his $5 million license fee returned.

The IGC then reopened bidding for the casino license, attracting interest from Churchill Downs, Hard Rock, Full House Resorts and Premier Gaming Group. Churchill Downs won the license at a November 2021 IGC meeting.

Duke Bennett, who served four terms as Terre Haute’s mayor through last year, was among the first to walk through the casino shortly after the grand opening. He said he met a couple who drove up from Texas just to be at the grand opening.

“It’s been a long road, and a lot of emotion went through all of this,” said Bennett, who now serves as the executive director for the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. “Now to see the finished product is really heartwarming. I just think the community deserves this.”

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Indiana Casinos Lagging

While the Terre Haute Casino Resort is expected to boost the economies of the city and region, it also will help the state’s gaming industry. Of course, online Indiana casinos are not legal.

According to data from the American Gaming Association, Indiana had traditional casino gross gaming revenue drop by 3.4% in 2023, the largest of any state with commercial casinos. The AGA cited several new casinos opening in neighboring Illinois as likely the primary reason for that decline. In addition, Kentucky’s racetracks have expanded the number of historical horse racing machines at their tracks and gaming halls, retaining bettors who previously played the slots at Indiana casinos along the Ohio River.

Indiana’s newest casino likely will pull gamblers from eastern Illinois to the western edge of Indianapolis, an area that’s an hour’s drive or less from Terre Haute on the Interstate 70 corridor.

“People are happy,” Bennett said. “They’re smiling. They love the opportunity not to drive two hours to gamble a little bit.”

Stay close to for news on casinos and Indiana sports betting apps.

Photo by Steve Bittenbender



Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.