MERRILLVILLE – This isn’t exactly what Gary legislators Earline Rogers and Charlie Brown envisioned when they introduced casino legislation almost 25 years ago. But the casino legislation pending today may accomplish many of the same goals.

The casinos were intended to pull Gary out of a financial depression and employment crisis. But the two casinos at the city’s far northwest side at Buffington Harbor never pulled in enough gamblers to achieve Gary’s goals.

But the current proposal to move one of Gary’s licenses to a land-based site – likely along the Borman Expressway – and move the second to Terre Haute may accomplish some of the goals of the early 1990s.

A land-based casino along Indiana’s busiest highway should bring in the kind of money the city of Gary needs to help get out of financial ruin.

While it might result in economic growth around the casino and hotel, it won’t bring economic development to downtown Gary as originally hoped.

But it could bring tremendous economic development to Buffington Harbor on Lake Michigan with the creation of an intermodal operation involving rail, air, water and highway for the transportation of goods.

The value of such a development should not be overlooked. Few locations in the country have such a mixture of transportation modes in one location.

What is impressive about the casino proposal is that it is sponsored by Sen. Mark Messmer who lives in Jasper, far from Northwest Indiana.

It is refreshing to see that a legislator from southern Indiana cares enough about Gary to take a stand. While things have passed the Senate, they still must win the approval of the House.

Already, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said he is opposed because the legislation is an expansion of gambling. Bosma’s stand reminds me of decades ago when downstate legislators were opposed to most things that would be a positive for Northwest Indiana.

Hopefully the House will go along with the proposal.

Messmer said, “It will help our existing casino operators be more competitive and will maximize our ability as a state to benefit from increased gaming revenues to our general fund, without increasing the number of licenses and staying within the caps that were established in 2013 for the number of positions at each facility.”

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said the $300 million land-based casino will provide 400 new jobs.

And, jobs were what Rogers and Brown were focused on when they launched the push for casinos.

Making Indiana casinos more attractive should help ward off the coming competition from Illinois, Melton said. 

Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.