July 19--It was a Southern Indiana groundbreaking with Las Vegas touches -- showgirls, fancy snacks, glass water bottles imported from Norway, an air-conditioned tent on a boiling hot day.
When it was over, Tropicana Evansville officially began construction of its new $50 million, land-based casino, which will replace the riverboat that's been in use since 1995. The new gambling, dining and entertainment venue is to be finished by late 2017.
Tuesday's groundbreaking wasn't just a ceremonial event. After the suit-wearing dignitaries scooped up a pile of dirt with their golden shovels, a flap of the tent flew open, and guests saw a contractor begin demolition of a former Tropicana Evansville office building.
That structure and the former Fast Eddy's bar are in the new casino's footprint, between the Tropicana and Le Merigot hotels.
Tropicana Evansville General Manager John Chaszar said the new building will have more of a Vegas feel -- high ceilings, more space and quality dining options.
Cavanaugh's on the south side of Riverside Drive will remain in place, but other restaurants on and near the riverboat will be replaced by the new casino-owned Tap House Restaurant and Bar, as well as a deli, located in the newly constructed casino. The area now known as Hoosiers Lounge will be gone, too, with a new lounge and entertainment venue planned.
As in the current casino, there will be a smoke-free area in the new one and it will provide a far better ventilation system, Chaszar said.
Legislation enabling riverboat casinos to move on land, without allowing an expansion of gambling, passed the General Assembly earlier this year. Southern Indiana lawmakers who supported the bill sat in the front row at Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony and were thanked by Chaszar and Mayor Lloyd Winnecke.
Winnecke also said, "We're thankful the governor allowed this to become law." The bill took effect without Gov. Mike Pence's signature.
Praise was shared in all directions.
Tropicana Evansville is a "consummate corporate citizen" that supports local nonprofits and generates revenue for public safety vehicles and more, Winnecke said.
Tropicana Entertainment CEO Tony Rodio said moving the casino on land "will benefit everybody." Indiana Gaming Commission Executive Director Sara Tait represented the Pence administration.
Chaszar declined to speculate how much of a revenue bump he expects the land-based casino to bring, but he said, "any investor wants a return on their investment."
(c)2016 the Evansville Courier & Press (Evansville, Ind.)
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