Portage, IN Seeks Council Support for City of Gary’s Casino License

25 years later, Portage may give seeking a casino license a second try

Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, 219-548-4352 Nov 5, 2018

PORTAGE — Twenty-five years ago, Porter County residents gave a resounding “no” when asked if they wanted a casino.

A lot has happened since then, said Portage City Council President Mark Oprisko Monday. He said he will seek council support to request the state transfer of one of Majestic Star’s two casino licenses to the city.

Last month a state legislative committee endorsed the city of Gary’s plans to relocate Majestic Star Casino, which holds two state licenses, to make way for development of Buffington Harbor. If the casino is moved inland, one license will transfer with it.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has already announced his city, home to Horseshoe Casino, will consider a resolution asking one of the licenses be transferred to Hammond.

Oprisko, D-at-large, said he sees a potential destination resort, anchored by a casino, on city-owned property that had been earmarked for developing a sports resort. That development fell through when owners filed for bankruptcy, and the city is in the process of regaining control of the land north of Interstate 94.

Oprisko believes people may think differently about a casino in Portage this time around, saying opponents in 1993 cited potential crime. That hasn’t been proven true with the casinos in neighboring Michigan City, East Chicago, Hammond and Gary, he said.

He said it also would be a revenue booster for the city and county. It could eliminate the need for a wheel tax and other resident-based revenue sources.

“If you don’t try, you won’t know,” Oprisko said about floating the resolution before the full council, likely at its Dec. 4 meeting.

Oprisko’s proposal has come with mixed reactions from city officials.

Councilman Colin Czilli, D-5th, said he supports the effort.

“What is the harm in trying? We literally missed the boat in the ’90s. Portage and Porter County have lost countless millions that could’ve paved miles of roads, built state-of-the-art facilities, and offered scholarships to Portage students. I think it is something worth considering. Portage has prime real estate for development on the north side, easy access to the South Shore Line, and quick access to Chicago via I-94 and the Skyway,” Czilli said.

“Portage should tread lightly before diving head first into trying to get a casino,” Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham said. “We should put a plan together first that looks at the impact to our services and whether the casino will bring the type of development we want.”

Mayor James Snyder did not return a request for comment.

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