French Lick casino gets a redeal - Saturday 12th of March 2005

Gambling companies have another shot at building a casino in French Lick after the Indiana Gaming Commission on Wednesday reopened the bidding process.According to a tentative timeline, companies interested in building the state's 11th casino will have until April 13 to make initial applications. Gaming commission Executive Director Ernest Yelton said he hopes to name a winner in about 90 days.State gaming officials have scrambled over the last three weeks to get the Orange County casino back on track after months of delay.

Yelton announced this month that he had called off a deal with Donald Trump's casino company, which is mired in bankruptcy reorganization, after it couldn't meet his deadlines.In July, the gaming commission selected Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts to build a casino in economically depressed Orange County.On Wednesday, eight months later, the commission unanimously rescinded that award and reopened the process.

Two groups definitely will apply -- Orange County Development, which features Larry Bird as its headliner, and Lost River Development, a partnership between Indianapolis-based Lauth Property Group and Chicago's Merit Gaming Group. Those two organizations lost to Trump last summer.Marilyn Fenton, who runs an antique shop in French Lick, said she just wants to see the casino project up and running again. But she admits she has her favorite: Larry Bird's group."People still come visit here just for him," Fenton said of French Lick's most famous native.The group's spokesman, Barry Morris, said residents shouldn't expect dramatic changes from Orange County Development's original proposal, just some fine-tuning."We're still going to take advantage of the two historic hotels. We do think we can improve," said Morris, noting that one improvement will be providing covered parking for gamblers.

Morris said he expects the Lauth group to be "formidable opponents."Lauth Group attorney Vernon Back, whose company was the runner-up to Trump, said this month his company is prepared "to move very quickly to bring this casino to Orange County."Greg Hahn, local attorney for Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, said he doesn't know if Trump will resubmit a bid.Yelton said he doesn't know of other groups that are interested, but wanted to reopen the process, just in case."I believe that it is a more fair and more open process," Yelton said.He opposed a more limited process in which the three applicants who originally competed would be the only ones allowed to vie again.The process requires a $50,000 fee, to cover the cost of background and financial investigations, for all applicants.The commission's staff expects to post a request for proposals by April 6. Final proposals would be due May 4. A vote could come as early as June 22, according to the timeline, which Yelton emphasized is tentative.

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