Groundbreaking a dream come true for Indianans - Friday 12th of August 2005

FRENCH LICK, Ind. -- Residents believing that a new casino will pump life into southern Indianas Orange County began arriving an hour before a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, many carrying cameras and the hopes of a decade.

Some 1,000 people showed up for the ceremony, with about a dozen wearing the orange shirts that symbolized casino supporters during their years of Statehouse lobbying for approval of Indianas 11th casino.

"This is a dream come true," resident Willa Sanders said. "We finally made it. When we throw that dirt, the casino is on its way."

The centerpiece of the $250 million project will be an 80,000-square-foot, nautical-themed casino to be built next to the French Lick Springs Resort, one of the sites frequented by gamblers and movie stars during the towns 1920s heyday.

Bulldozers and dump trucks sat nearby Tuesday, waiting to begin site work this week. Developers plan to have the casino, with 1,000 slot machines and at least 25 tables for games such as poker and blackjack, open by late next year.

The state Gaming Commission gave initial approval in June to the proposal, led by Bloomington billionaire William Cooks company -- Cook Group -- and Indianapolis-based Lauth Property Group. Their plan was the only one submitted when the bidding process reopened in March after Donald Trumps casino company withdrew from its French Lick contract.

The Cook-Lauth partnership, dubbed Blue Sky Casino, also plans to renovate 440 rooms at the French Lick hotel and 240 rooms at the nearby West Baden Springs Resort by the end of 2007.

"Despite all the work, we in many ways today are just getting started," Lauth Group CEO Robert Lauth said during Tuesdays ceremony. "To say that this is an aggressive undertaking on a tight schedule is an understatement."

Cook Group plans to use its share of the casinos profits to support economic development, education and historic preservation efforts in the area about 50 miles south of Bloomington.

State Rep. Jerry Denbo, D-French Lick, said the partnerships plans for the casino far exceed what he had expected.

Denbo told the crowd that after a decade lobbying for the casino, the ceremony was like a fairy tale that "leaves even the politicians speechless."

Those arriving for the groundbreaking entered a reception tent at the French Lick resort with bronze devil-like statues on either side -- and signs explaining that the statues were a rendering of Pluto, for whom the hotels spring water was named.

Songs such as "Viva Las Vegas" played over loudspeakers until a four-piece string ensemble began playing while residents milled about sipping orange juice and water from champagne glasses.

Casino supporters have long pointed to construction of a casino as the best way to revive the two historic hotels and boost an area that has long had one of the states highest jobless rates -- at 6.5 percent for May, the most-recent statistics available.

Developers expect the casino and the two resorts to have a total of about 1,400 employees and an estimated $32 million in annual salaries and benefits.

L.A. Street said he was born and raised in French Lick, but had left the town to work in the central Indiana town of Rushville. He said the casino project gave the town "kind of a spirit of hope."

"Everybody is anxious to get this casino up, and hopefully the community will develop," he said.

Other news from around the same time

Governor pledges to work with tribe on casino - Friday 12th of August 2005

LANDER, Wyo. -- After losing a lengthy court battle to stop plans to build a high-stakes casino, Gov....

Alliance postpones its earnings report - Friday 12th of August 2005

Las Vegas-based Alliance Gaming Inc. postponed the release of its fourth-quarter earnings Tuesday, c....

Company signs strategic deal with wireless operator - Friday 12th of August 2005

Las Vegas-based Shuffle Master Inc. has signed an agreement with a wireless company to develop softw....

Macau Week makes splash in LV - Friday 12th of August 2005

Three Las Vegas resorts and the Fashion Show mall have rolled out the red carpet for a large conting....

UK Casinos Able to Have Live Entertainment - Friday 12th of August 2005

"All casinos built in the United Kingdom will in future have the potential to host live stage entert....

Wynn Resorts opens with highest room rates on the Las Vegas Strip - Friday 12th of August 2005

After opening April 28 with a blistering first five weeks, the $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas megaresor....

Cashless slot machines offer casinos unexpected bonanza - Friday 12th of August 2005

Gamblers that play ticket-in, ticket-out slot machines give thousands of dollars a month back to the....

Wristbands aim at raising problem gambling awareness - Friday 12th of August 2005

Starting this week, customers nationwide will notice employees at several major casinos wearing oran....

William Hill to sell 50 betting shops to secure deal approval - Friday 12th of August 2005

William Hill (LSE: WMH.L - news) said it would sell 50 betting shops to gain regulatory clearance fo....

Mobile gambling to net $7.6bn by 2010 - Friday 12th of August 2005

The global market for mobile gambling is poised to rocket from current annual revenue levels of $1.2....