A Year Later, Gary’s Newest Casino, Top Earner in State, Eye Hotel, Parking Lot Upgrades – Chicago Tribune
About 2.2 million people have visited the new Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana in Gary since it opened in May 2021, propelling the site to the rank of highest-paying casino in the state.
It’s a designation the property has held since October, outperforming its competitors and nearly quadrupling the revenue generated by the former Majestic Star casinos it replaced. Hard Rock again topped the state with $38.2 million in earnings in April, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission.
Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana President Matt Schuffert said the first year has been great for the casino and for gaming in Indiana.
“Opening during a pandemic in a mature gaming market, who knew how well we would or how little we wouldn’t,” Schuffert said.
Hard Rock’s success hasn’t just come at the expense of other northwest Indiana casinos.
“We developed the market,” Schuffert said. “We didn’t steal a ton of stuff from them.”
Customer traffic has still not returned to pre-pandemic levels due to continued pandemic concerns and public gathering. Schuffert said there are still plenty of advantages in the market.
“We’ve been able to grow the market quite strongly and we continue to fine-tune things in the business based on customer feedback. These are all things that we believe will satisfy customers. We are certainly very optimistic about the future. We envision the business growing here,” Schuffert said.
Schuffert said the casino’s location so close to a major highway is one of the drivers of its success. The casino is south of the Borman Highway, off Burr Street. No other casino is located in the same way. He also thanks the approximately 600 team members who moved from the Majestic Star to the Hard Rock and the approximately 1,000 others hired to staff the new casino. Approximately 40% of employees are from Gary while 75% are from Lake County.
“We knew we would do well from a location where the facility was built and the brand. The Hard Rock brand is extremely well known. It was awesome,” Schuffert said.
Schuffert said plans include creating additional space for slot machines by capturing a small portion of the Fresh Harvest restaurant and converting it to games. Another cashier cage will be added by Asian baccarat tables.
On Wednesday, in time for the first anniversary celebration on Saturday, the casino opened its first bookmaker.
Moving forward, discussions are continuing on phase two of the development, which is the addition of a parking garage and hotel.
“The design and construction team is working hard to develop a hotel project that will work well here,” Schuffert said.
All changes and improvements are guest driven. Schuffert said the casino relies on customer feedback to plan its evolution.
“We’re definitely hearing a lot of feedback from customers,” Schuffert said, with more teases expected later in the year.
“We really wanted to leverage the casino as an entertainment destination and not just slots and table games,” Schuffert said. The casino’s five restaurants are all booming. Hard Rock Live, a 2,000-seat entertainment venue opened in November.
“Some people come here to be entertained, to enjoy good food and drink, and never to touch a slot machine. We want to be a place where people have fun,” Schuffert said.
“The hospitality industry is very customer service oriented, very customer oriented. The team does things to attract customers. It’s great to see that we’ve been very quick to become the most productive casino in the state in a short period of time,” Schuffert said.
Gary Mayor Jerome Prince described the development of the Hard Rock Casino as a benefit to the town. The project increased property taxes. These tax dollars are funneled back into the Hard Rock Casino Airport Tax Increment Financing District around the casino to help facilitate future development in the area. Authorities are awaiting figures on the first-year property assessment for the development.
The city also receives income tax revenue from casino employees who reside in Gary.
“We’ve been able to hire additional staff, which creates salaries and gives people the opportunity to provide for their basic needs, to take care of their families,” Prince said.
From an economic development perspective, Prince said the casino has absolutely created a positive impact on adjacent properties.
“We still hope to see additional investment. It just creates excitement,” Prince said.
There are also new opportunities for economic development in Buffington Harbor with the sale and demise of the two former Majestic river casinos.
As part of the local development agreement, the city receives a $6.1 million guarantee based on 1.5% of the casino’s adjusted gross revenue. All revenue generated above the guaranteed minimum is placed into a Lakeside Casino Development Account, which the city can use for future initiatives.
By April, the city had received $4.1 million, Prince said. If casino revenue continues the same for the remainder of the year, an additional $8-10 million will be deposited into the lakeside casino development account. These funds can be used for a number of things in collaboration between the municipal council and the administration.
“Some areas that I would definitely like to explore are maybe opportunities for increased demolition,” Prince said. “I would like to use some of this revenue to fight the scourge of the city holistically once and for all.”
Carrie Napoleon is a freelance journalist for the Post-Tribune.