new era for Switzerland County
FLORENCE, Ind. After six years of frustrating setbacks, Switzerland
County is finally getting its casino.
by Don Ward
left) Vevay Town Council member
Hibert Scudder, Hollywood Park CEO
Paul Alanis, Vevay Town Council
member Katharine Deems and casino
co-owner John House turn the dirt
July 14 at the future site of Belterra
Resort and Casino. The
scheduled to open in August 2000,
will feature a 15-story hotel
(inset) and 18-hole golf course.
More than 300 people gathered July 14 on the banks of
the Ohio River a few miles east of Vevay, Ind., for a groundbreaking
ceremony staged by Hollywood Park officials. The $165 million venture,
which had been stalled in recent years by casino company merges and
referendums in neighboring counties, will be named Belterra Resort and
Casino, it was announced.
The project represents the last of five riverboat casinos Indiana is
allowing on the Ohio River and will be located just a short drive from
casinos in Rising Sun and Lawrenceburg.
In addition to a riverboat casino and pavilion, the 270-acre complex
will include a 15-story, 300-room hotel, a restaurant, retail stores,
parking garage and a Tom Fazio-designed public golf course.
The riverboat casino, not yet built, will house 38,000 square feet of
gaming space, with room for 1,300 electronic gaming machines and 55
Construction is expected to generate 700 new jobs; the casino itself
will create 1,400 jobs, officials said.
When opened in August 2000, the casino is expected to draw 1.5 millions
million visitors a year, generating $15 million annually for what had
been Indianas third poorest county. The golf course, however,
wont be ready until April 2001.
The language in the 1993 legislation that allowed riverboat gambling
in Indiana was to help economically distressed areas. And though we
believe we should have been among the first (to get a riverboat license),
we are no less thankful, said Mike Jones, president of the Switzerland
Jones was referring to the Indiana Gaming Commissions first round
of awarding riverboat casino licenses in 1994, during which Switzerland
County was passed over.
With the revenues of a riverboat casino, we will be able to do
more than we ever thought imaginable, Jones told the enthusiastic
The county already has received thousands of dollars from Hollywood
Park and plans to use it to purchase new road paving equipment. My
goal is to have every road in the county blacktopped within 10 years,
announced Switzerland County Commission president Jim Allison.
The county school system has already received $400,000 to help with
school building debt and expects to receive about $11 million over the
next five years.
With additional money from the casino, the county plans to build a state-of-the-art
medical clinic and boost funding of its emergency medical services,
police and fire departments, and schools.
Switzerland Countys neighbors in Jefferson, Crawford and Ripley
counties will also benefit in a negotiated revenue-sharing plan. Those
counties could receive annual income of $1 million, $1 million and $500,000,
But the obstacles to financial freedom are not over. Casino developers
are still awaiting approval on permit applications to state environmental
officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the riverbank
to harbor their riverboat.
Nevertheless, they remain optimistic.
We have every indication that the applications will be approved
very soon, said Steve Smith, a Louisville attorney and former
Corps employee who has overseen the application process.
Most of the concerns involved archaeology and the creation of
new wetlands to offset what we need to do to dredge the harbor,
The area where the boat will be moored has been a popular fishing spot
and wildlife area that was created when the Markland Dam was built,
forming a slough. Smith said the Corps' concerns have been resolved
through concessions by Hollywood Park. For instance, the company has
agreed to create twice the amount of lost wetlands and plant 2.5 acres
of hardwood trees to act as a buffer to the newly created wildlife zone.
Around the town of Vevay, residents are welcoming the new casino with
guarded optimism, since most concede that Belterra will change their
tranquil home. Nevertheless, most admit the county needs the money.
The question is what if anything the casino will do for
local business and tourism.
In other communities with casinos, the local community has been on its
own regarding business growth, since a casino's mission is to keep gamblers
gambling for as long as possible. That mission is demonstrated by clockless
and windowless gambling halls.
And since Hollywood Park's casino will be located several miles upriver
from Vevay, attracting tourists to downtown may be an even bigger challenge.
"We're very excited about this, and we've waited a long time for
it," said Ann Mulligan, executive director of the Switzerland County
Welcome Center. She added that no one knows what impact the casino will
have on the community.
Local real estate agents Kay Brindley and Teresa Bovard-Lyons predict
continued increases in land prices, but they believe the prices would
have risen without the casino because of hunters and developers.
In the last 15 years, land prices along the Ohio River have jumped from
$500 to $1,500 per acre. The county's tillable farmland has remained
steady at around $3,000 per acre.
"We'll see some growth around Florence," Bovard-Lyons said.
"Most of the people who come in on the ground floor of these casinos
the start-up people only stay for a couple of years and
then move on to their next project, so most of them will probably rent.
So I don't think we'll see an immediate growth in residential building."
Brindley said local growth has been spurred by "people moving out
of the city." However, she predicted increased real estate buying
activity around the casino itself.
Both agreed the availability of new jobs and wage increases among local
residents could generate more residential buying activity in the future.
"Once everything is in place, I think it's going to be overwhelming,"
Madison Mayor Al Huntington attended the groundbreaking "as a show
of support for Switzerland County because they've supported us since
The mayor is worried about the wear on the roads by people traveling
through Jefferson County to get to the casino, but added that he plans
to use the annual million-dollar payments to maintain the roads. He
also plans to add the casino to his list of reasons why the state should
convert Hwy. 56 into a "super-two" highway connecting Madison
with I-65. A super-two highway would have wide shoulders and turning
lanes at busy intersections for passing.
"Madison is Indiana's only city over 10,000 that is more than 10
miles from an interstate," Huntington said. "There are federal
highway dollars available right now, and the state is showing a lot
He added that even if approved, it would take eight to 10 years to complete.
Hollywood Park is a diversified company that owns or operates eight
casinos, two pari-mutuel horse racing facilities and two card club casinos
in Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana, California, Arizona and Argentina.
Correspondent Barbara Fluegeman contributed to this report.
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