News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Jeff Simpson, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 20, 2003 - Basketball great Larry Bird persuaded Coast Casinos Chairman Michael Gaughan to take a 75 percent stake in a proposed Indiana casino, Gaughan said Wednesday.
Coast announced earlier this week that it had acquired an ownership interest in Orange County Development LLC. The limited liability company was formed to pursue a casino license slated to be awarded by the Indiana Gaming Commission.
Indiana basketball icon Bird is one of the group's partners, and he called Gaughan and asked him to front the group's effort to get the casino license, Gaughan said.
Bird's participation and the opportunity to build a casino in a place with a challenging economy made the Indiana opportunity worth doing, he said.
"I wasn't going to do this until Larry Bird called me," Gaughan said. "Larry's doing this for his hometown. You know, he's taking his end (of profits from the casino investment) and donating it to the city of French Lick."
A Larry Bird museum might be part of the casino complex, Gaughan said.
The Coast owner visited Indiana twice recently.
"It looks like it will be a fun opportunity," Gaughan said. "Joining with a guy like Larry Bird to do something that will be good for his community seems like something fun to do."
The casino would probably cost about $60 million or $70 million.
"This won't be a giant casino," he said. "It will primarily be a locals casino. It'll have slots and tables, but no keno. Maybe poker. There will be a steak house, a small coffee shop and a buffet."
Building the casino, which would be Coast's only non-Las Vegas property, depends upon an Indiana Gaming Commission decision.
The Indiana regulators must choose from five applicants to operate the casino in or near the towns of French Lick and West Baden Springs in Orange County, Indiana.
The depressed economy of French Lick and its surroundings didn't dissuade Gaughan from joining the ownership group.
Nor did restrictions that prohibit the venture from building a hotel, intended to generate business for a couple of 200-year-old hotels in the area, scare Gaughan off.
"I'm used to operating in a depressed market," Gaughan said, referring to a East St. Louis, Ill., riverboat he personally owns.
He said the Illinois city had virtually abdicated its public service responsibilities before casino revenue started flowing and services were restored or improved.
"In a depressed market you see the impact of your investment," he said.
Gaughan declined to say how much he'll have to pay for the 75 percent stake of the proposed casino Coast will own.
Coast's other partners in the venture include former Nevada Gov. Robert List and Indiana businessmen Lucien Meis and William Kelsey.
A French Lick-based committee will make a recommendation on the selection of a casino operator to the gaming commission, which makes the final decision.
Gaughan noted that the Orange County casino will be the state's only nonriverboat casino, and credited environmental concerns over the impact of putting a riverboat in a nearby lake for the distinction.
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(c) 2003, Las Vegas Review-Journal. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.