“All in on Terre Haute:” Rising Sun leaders talk casino’s community impact

Rising Star Casino owned by Full House Resorts

RISING SUN, Ind. (WTHI) – Back in 1997, Rising Sun began taking in revenue generated by a casino that opened in the city. After 20 years of improvements, locals who’ve lived there a while, and even those who haven’t been there as long, will tell you the city is much better off for having the casino as its neighbor.

John Vest retired to Rising Sun and has lived there for seven years. He lives in an apartment that overlooks the Ohio River. The view will take your breath away.

“They have a regatta here every year,” John told me, “and this community’s really prospered since the casino’s been here.”

Well, that didn’t take long! By the way, that was part of John’s answer to my first question. I asked him about the view of the Ohio River from his front door. Perhaps that tells you all you need to know about how important the Rising Star casino is to the community.  But then again, we wouldn’t have a major story if we stopped here! And we didn’t.

We traveled throughout the city of 2300 people. Sure, some small Indiana towns have a beautiful downtown that’s similar to what Rising Sun has. Odds are, though, those towns don’t have the infrastructure Rising Sun residents enjoy everyday, in much the same way that John enjoys that view of the Ohio River.

“We’ve been able to redo the sewer throughout the city, water, electricity, sidewalks.” said Mayor Brent Bascom. “We were able to do so much infrastructure to our city, especially of our size.”

Terre Haute’s residents just saw an increase to its sewer bills to cover yet another multi-million dollar project. Mayor Bascom said Rising Sun recently paid off a $10 million sewer project without raising rates. “Riverboat funds” also allowed the city to sink another $10 million into developing the city’s beautiful riverwalk.

“Really, I think that makes an impact on the everyday residents of the community, as well as the people who come to visit,” said Rae Baker Gipson, the town’s clerk-treasurer of 22 years.

More importantly, The casino is Ohio County’s biggest employer. John drives a bus part-time for the casino, and he says he absolutely loves his job. He’s not the only Rising Sun resident who told us they enjoy working for the casino, and consider Full House Resorts a good employer. In fact, John talked about how the job adds to his quality of life, one he says he may not enjoy even if he lived in a larger city.

Still, casinos bring with the concerns of increased crime. That’s why we talked with David Hewitt, who’s been Rising Sun’s police chief for 13 years.

“Initially, there was an uptick in some alcohol-related offenses: DUI’s, public intoxication, things like that,” said Chief Hewitt. “But after the first year or two, those numbers leveled off.”

This is where we should point out the Rising Star casino opened one to two years prior to its hotel. Once the hotel opened, Hewitt said Rising Sun’s own crime concerns were quickly put to rest.

“There was always that fear there was going to be organized crime, and just an added criminal element,” Chief Hewitt told us. “It just never materialized.”

Full House Resorts confirmed to News 10 if a casino is built in Terre Haute, it will include, among other amenities, a hotel.  Both the hotel and casino will open at the same time.

In addition, Mayor Bascom says his city enjoys a terrific partnership with the casino that goes beyond the added tax revenue in his budget. It also allows Rising Sun to partner with casinos in Vevay and Lawrenceburg to create a regional destination. It’s something Bascom, a native of Lawrenceburg, says can happen in Terre Haute, too.

“They come and visit Rising Sun, and we’d like them to stay, but they also go down the river to each of those destinations as well,” said Mayor Bascom. “You’re going to have people coming from all over the state that may stop and go to that particular establishment, but then work their way around the city of Terre Haute to visit other areas.”

The Rising Star Casino brings all of this to Rising Sun, while generating only 2.3% of the total gaming revenue in the State of Indiana.  Full House Resorts estimates a Terre Haute casino will generate $10 million in annual tax revenue for local governments.

A lot of you have asked News 10 about whether smoking would be permitted by Full House Resorts in the proposed Terre Haute casino. An executive confirmed smoking would be permitted in part of the casino, while other parts would be smoke-free. He also confirmed any commercial, residential or meeting space, as well as any restaurants on site would be smoke-free.

Many of you have also asked how Full House Resorts helps to combat compulsive gambling. The same executive told us the company trains all employees on the signs of compulsive gambling, and programs are available through the state. But it’s up to the individual player to ask for help. Once that happens, the casino can direct that person to the resources available to them.