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Evansville riverboat casino closes after 22 years

After 22 years of continuous operation, the floating casino formerly known as Casino Aztar officially closed on Monday morning at 5:59. 

On Friday, a new era begins with the grand opening of Tropicana Evansville’s land-based casino facing Riverside Drive.

State legislation passed two years ago allows riverboat casinos to move on land.

Lawmakers from the Evansville area pushed for the measure, and once it became law, Tropicana and the city immediately took advantage.

“Right now, when you go to the boat, you go to the boat to gamble,” Tropicana Evansville General Manager John Chaszar said. “There’s no other reason to go to the boat. When you go to this new facility, you can go with a group of people that have diverse intentions. You can have someone who wants to have a beer and watch a game, you can have someone who wants to play some blackjack or sit on a slot machine, or folks who want to sit in the lounge and listen to music or dance.

Built for $50 million, the land-based casino is more spacious than the riverboat.

It includes new dining and entertainment options, and will seek guests of all tastes.

“It’s one giant entertainment experience, versus a gambling experience,” Chaszar said. “It will change the way people think about gaming in Evansville. I can’t emphasize enough how people will be blown away the first time you walk in.”

After opening in 1995, the facility had about 2 million guests per year.

As more casinos opened in Indiana and nearby states, admissions gradually fell.

In fiscal year 2017, about 1.15 million guests boarded the Evansville vessel, according to Indiana Gaming Commission reports.

Evansville officials sought the land-based casino legislation to make Tropicana more competitive.

The measure also found support in other Indiana communities with riverboats.

The nearest casinos to Evansville, in French Lick and Metropolis, Illinois, are land-based.

Tropicana in 2017 generated $32.1 million in total taxes.

Casino officials expect moving ashore will increase that amount. French Lick Resort Casino’s total taxes for 2017 were $18.1 million.

Evansville city government’s annual share of casino money, $10 million or so, is mostly used to fund capital projects. Some also is used on Ford Center debt.

Casino funds over the years have paid for public safety vehicles and local government matches for federally funded road repairs. Vanderburgh County government receives about $2 million a year in Tropicana proceeds.

Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke toured the land-based casino construction site a month ago, “and even then you could tell how impressive it’s going to be.”

Indiana Gaming Commission members also saw the construction site recently and will return this week for the grand opening.

“It is absolutely breathtaking. I think the city of Evansville and future patrons will be blown away by what they see,” said Sara Gonso Tait, executive director of the gaming commission.

Some Key Dates in Evansville’s Casino History

November 2, 1993: Vanderburgh County voters pass a referendum to bring Indiana’s first casino to Evansville. The margin in favor was just short of 52 percent, ending a community debate that went on for months. On the same day, Warrick County voters defeated a similar referendum.

December 8, 1995: Casino Aztar officially opens.

December 17, 1996: The 250-room Casino Aztar Hotel (now Tropicana Hotel) opens.

November 1, 2006: A casino opens at the refurbished French Lick Resort, giving Evansville a nearby in-state competitor.

December 28, 2006: The 100-room Le Merigot Hotel opens, giving Evansville two casino hotels.

June 2013: Casino Aztar is rebranded as Tropicana Evansville, aligning with its parent company.

February 11, 2014: In a 3-2 decision, the Indiana Supreme Court finds that Tropicana Evansville’s exemption from a city smoking ban in indoor eating and drinking establishments is unconstitutional. The ruling meant the city's 2006 smoking ban went back into effect, prohibiting smoking in workpalces and other public places but exempting bars, private clubs and the casino.

May 8, 2015: Then-Gov. Mike Pence allows land-based casino legislation to become law without his signature.

February 24, 2016: Indiana Gaming Commission unanimously approves Tropicana Evansville proposal to move ashore.

October 20, 2017: The $50 million, land-based Tropicana Evansville casino opens.

Portions of this article reprinted from our media partner, The Evansville Courier & Press.

(This article was originally published on October 16, 2017)


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