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Casino, horse track a proven windfall for Shelby County

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Thoroughbred racing is now the feature racing attaction at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino in Shelbyville.
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Indiana Grand Racing & Casino recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in Shelby County. Nearly two decades ago, Shelbyville was lucky enough to get a horse track established that featured harness racing. A few years later, a land-based casino joined the property and Shelby County has benefited in numerous ways from boththe horse and gaming industries.

By JEFF BROWN - jbrown@shelbynews.com

First there was a horse track – Indiana Downs.

That was a huge win for Shelby County but the bigger prize was to follow, according to city officials that recently reminisced about the early negotiations that brought a casino to the community a decade ago. 

Just surpassing its 10th year in business in Shelbyville, Indiana Grand Racing & Casino, as it is currently known, is a shining gem for Shelby County. So much so that Caesars Entertainment, a worldwide juggernaut in gaming, is set to takeover the racino – the common name for a combination horse track and casino – after its $1.7 billion offer to purchase both Indiana Grand and Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind., was approved by the Indiana Gaming Commission.

For Shelbyville and Shelby County, the jackpot has been enormous.

“We had the right spot ... the right group of community leaders ... the right developer ... and the right state climate,” recalled David Finkel, who was the president of the Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals over a decade ago. “Everything aligned in our behalf. And, literally for the city of Shelbyville, we hit the lottery.”

The entertainment value of a horse track with pari-mutuel betting combined with a gambling establishment instantly made Shelbyville a destination point in central Indiana. 

Over the years, the financial windfall to Shelbyville and Shelby County has been tremendous. The state of Indiana has consistently delivered over $3 million per year in wagering taxes to both the city and county – in other words, a decade of wagering taxes has put upward of $70 million into local budgets.

City and county officials then determine how that money gets disbursed. 

Two endowment funds were created for the Blue River Foundation to manage. Both will continue in perpetuity even if the casino shuts down tomorrow. 

Some of the wagering tax funds have gone to support city and county services and projects. Trails, roads, streets, sidewalks, curb ramps and infrastructure have all been created or improved because of the casino, according to current Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun.

Advantage Shelby County, Project IMPaCT with Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, equipment grants for the Blue River Career Center, the Animal Shelter construction project, technology grants for the school system and fiber optic network expansion also have come about due to the casino.

“Look at those funds and what it has provided for us ... what it has allowed us to do in public safety,” said Finkel. “It’s tremendous. And that’s the least of it. How many people do you know work at the (horse) track? Or work at the casino? And they are happy. (Indiana Grand Racing & Casino) is a great employer.”

The casino and horse track currently carries over 1,000 full- and part-time season employees. 

Centaur Gaming, who just sold both Indiana Grand and Hoosier Park to Caesars, took its responsibility as a good corporate citizen seriously. According to its 2017 Indiana State and Community Impact Report, Centaur Gaming has provided to the cities of Shelbyville and Anderson, the counties of Madison and Shelby, the state of Indiana and the Indiana Horse Racing Industry more than $2.4 billion in taxes, fees and incentive payments.

The report continues: Through payroll, regional purchases, and payments to city and county governments, Centaur’s race track casinos have infused more than $1.37 billion into the economies of our host communities and the surrounding areas since 2008.

In addition, Centaur has made $600 million in purchases from local and regional suppliers since 2008.

The report also lists more than 80 team members volunteer on 68 boards and organizations ranging from Advantage Shelby County, First Friday, Girls, Inc., SCUFFY, Shelbyville Central Schools, and Waldron Community Fire Department.

Very soon, the Centaur name will be removed from Indiana Grand Racing & Casino as a new chapter unfolds under the Caesars Entertainment banner. 

“Caesars, like everything, will have its pros and cons,” said local attorney Lee McNeely, who represents Centaur Gaming. “Rod Ratcliff, (Chairman and CEO of Centaur Gaming), is a special person to Shelby County. He has a good heart and has been very generous.

“Caesars has a reputation for being very community oriented. It has a charitable foundation that spends off enormous amounts of money to its various locations.”

According to caesarscorporate.com, the company will be active in the community through similar financial and personal commitments from the company and its employees.

And that means Shelbyville and Shelby County will continue to benefit in ways many other communities can only dream about.

Shelbyville racino reaches milestone

What started out as Indiana Live! and currently stands as Indiana Grand Racing & Casino celebrated 10 years of operations in Shelbyville last month.

The Shelbyville News recently reached out to local officials for input on the earliest days of the massive project to learn behind-the-scenes stories about how a horse track and casino landed in Shelby County.

In addition, the economic impact of both facilities on the local community were discussed.

In today edition, one story looks at how millions of tax wagering dollars are spent locally. And a column by Blue River Foundation Executive Director Amy Haacker describes how endowment funds were created and utilized to benefit Shelby County.

In the next edition, the first phone call and the process of creating a casino are examined and a look at what the next decade could hold for the land around the racino.