Churchill Downs Opens Casino Portion of Terre Haute Resort in Indiana

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Churchill Downs has opened the first phase of its $290 million Terre Haute Casino Resort in Indiana.

Churchill Downs opened its Terre Haute Casino Resort on Friday, April 5, 2024. The casino welcomed a large crowd on its first day. An on-site hotel opens next month. (Image: Tribune-Star)

Last Friday, Terre Haute Casino Resort’s first guests were welcomed after Churchill brass and state and local officials held a ribbon cutting. The gaming and entertainment venue is located southeast of the city’s center near the Terre Haute Regional Airport.

The 400,000-square-foot property commenced operations with its casino floor and several restaurants and bars. The casino has 1,000 slot machines, 36 live dealer table games, and a race and sportsbook.

“Today’s grand opening of Terre Haute Casino Resort is a time to reflect on the promises Churchill Downs made, kept, and delivered for this community,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs. “An occasion like today feels like the end of all the effort to successfully get us to this point, but it’s actually just the beginning of what this project can do for Vigo County and the State of Indiana.”

Along with the casino, the property debuted with a steakhouse, grill, soda shop, and two bars.

Strong Opening

Casino officials say more than 2,100 guests entered the gaming space within the first hour of its operation. The property has hired over 500 permanent employees and is expected to generate tens of millions of dollars in new local tax revenue annually for the city.

This premier gaming facility will make it possible to welcome visitors from across the Midwest, the nation, and the world here to Terre Haute,” said Terre Haute Mayor Brandon Sakbun. “The opportunity this creates for the people of our community is a true testament to the leaders who have worked on this project for years.”

Terre Haute is on Indiana’s western edge adjacent to the Illinois border and the Wabash River. The city ranks 16th in population with about 58K residents.

Terre Haute is an education hub and home to Indiana State University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and Ivy Tech Community College. The city’s name is derived from the French phrase “terre haute,” which means “highland.”

Churchill Downs officials say the Terre Haute Casino Resort’s 122-room hotel will open on May 15. And once the weather permits, the resort’s outdoor pool and bar area will open, too.

Churchill Downs opened its Terre Haute Casino Resort on April 5 to long lines. (Image: Tribune-Star)

Terre Haute Casino Scandal

Churchill Downs wasn’t supposed to be Terre Haute’s casino partner. The Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) initially chose Indiana-based Spectacle Entertainment.

Spectacle partnered with Florida-based Hard Rock International, controlled by the Seminole Tribe, in 2019. The IGC issued Spectacle the Terre Haute casino license after state lawmakers expanded gaming earlier that year for a casino in west-central Indiana.  

In January 2020, however, the IGC opened an investigation into Spectacle. The probe found that several company executives made illegal campaign contributions that were essentially bribes for favorable legislation on the state level.

The IGC fined Spectacle more than a half-million dollars and ordered the firm to disassociate from its cofounder, Rod Ratcliff. The scandal also cost Spectacle its Terre Haute license.

In May 2020, the IGC approved the transfer of the development opportunity and permit to local businessman Greg Gibson but Gibson’s LLC, Lady Luck Gaming, failed to secure financing for the project.

That led to the IGC revoking the license and conducting another competitive bid for the permit. Churchill won over competing bids from Full House Resorts and a new proposal from Hard Rock free of Spectacle.

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