LICK , Indiana - State regulators gave conditional
approval yesterday to an investment group led by Bloomington
philanthropist Bill Cook to build the state's 11th and
final riverboat casino in French Lick.
Indiana Gaming Commission unanimously approved a resolution
authorizing the agency's staff to complete an agreement
in the next two months with the group, known as Blue Sky
Sky includes the Cook Group Inc., a medical device manufacturer
owned by Bill Cook, and the Lauth Group Inc., an Indianapolis
real-estate development company. The casino will be operated
by Majestic Star Casino of Gary.
Sky -- the only applicant for the venture -- has proposed
a $70 million casino with 1,000 slot machines in a three-acre
lake beside the French Lick Springs Resort Hotel.
It also intends to sink nearly $150 million into restoring
the historic French Lick hotel and another at nearby West
Blue Sky casino and 200 renovated rooms in the French
Lick hotel could be open by fall 2006.
But regulators announced yesterday -- to loud groans from
Orange County residents in a packed ballroom at the French
Lick resort -- that before giving the project final approval
they need to review documents outlining the financing
for the venture.
also lack other key contracts, including the casino management
agreement between Majestic Star and Blue Sky.
all the documents are submitted, probably by mid-August,
the state will start negotiations on an operating contract,
said Ernest Yelton, the gaming commission's executive
Orange County supporters -- dressed in blue T-shirts --
responded with loud applause when the commission voted.
the meeting, Butch Cox, a self-employed concrete contractor,
said he was excited and relieved by the vote.
is what the (area) needs," he said. "It's been
such a long wait."
gambling regulators say they're confident about Blue Sky's
financial ability to invest such a large amount in the
economically depressed county, some gaming commission
members expressed skepticism yesterday about the venture's
Vowels, an Evansville lawyer who has served on the commission
since its inception 10 years ago, asked why annual projections
had grown from $60 million for a casino proposed last
year by Donald Trump's company to Blue Sky's $115.8 million.
also noted that a gaming-market analysis by The Innovation
Group of New Orleans projected that nearly 80 percent
of the patrons would be people who live within 50 miles
of the casino and come for a day trip, not an overnight
that other Ohio River casinos draw from the same region,
he asked, "Isn't that counterproductive to what we're
trying to do here?"
added, "Your marketing area will overlap significantly
with the other casinos."
Lauth, president of the Lauth Group, defended the projections.
He said Blue Sky believes that the two resorts and the
state's smallest casino can draw from a larger area, attracting
gamblers from communities up to 200 miles away.
for the increase in revenues, Lauth said Blue Sky expects
to sell French Lick and West Baden as a unique destination
resort for groups and conventioneers.
Sky representatives conceded that overcoming the casino's
remote location, at least 30 miles from the nearest interstate
highway, will require a savvy marketing and promotional
promotions, car giveaways and an aggressive approach to
building a player database will form their core approach,
said Christina Felts, corporate director of marketing
for Majestic Star.
member Ann Marie Bochnowski said residents shouldn't take
the commission members' questions about the project as
said the commission was making an honest effort to ensure
the community gets the best contractor for the project.
year ago, we thought we were making your dream come true,"
she said. "Hopefully, today will be the beginning
of the real dream."
added in a brief interview after the meeting that he raised
the questions publicly because he has real concerns about
Blue Sky's projections.
he said, all the competitors for the existing five Ohio
River casino licenses clearly understood that the state
originally envisioned 11 riverboats -- six in Southern
Indiana and five on Lake Michigan.
So their revenue forecasts should have taken into account
the planned 11th casino in rural Southern Indiana.
County's leaders have worked since 1991, two years before
casino gambling was legalized in Indiana, to bring gambling
back to the French Lick area.
gambling thrived in the early 20th century when the Springs
Valley lured the rich and famous to high-end resorts and
healing mineral springs.
residents reminded the commission yesterday that they
were beginning to wonder if their casino would ever become
a reality. The plans derailed last year after the state
gaming commission chose Trump to develop a $110 million
company's bankruptcy filing last fall left it unable to
meet deadlines, and Trump eventually withdrew under pressure
from gambling regulators.
said yesterday he has no concerns about Blue Sky's ability
to line up the financing quickly and get started on the
financing is not going to be an issue," he said.