Indiana’s newest casino has opened to the public. On Friday, patrons flocked to Gary to see what the $300 million Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana has to offer.
The casino – the first land-based venue in Indiana’s northwestern gaming corridor – is a joint project between Spectacle Entertainment and Hard Rock International. It replaces the two Majestic Star Casino boats that were anchored in Gary’s Buffington Harbor.
Upon its opening, which was celebrated with ceremonial guitar smashes in lieu of a ribbon-cutting, Hard Rock becomes one of the largest casinos in the state. It features more than 1,600 slot machines and more than 80 table games.
The Hard Rock venue will also employ about 1,300 workers, with about half coming from the Majestic Star.
In speaking before the Indiana Gaming Commission earlier this year, Gary Mayor Jerome Prince said the casino is an important economic development project for his city, and not just because of the jobs or the visitors Hard Rock will bring.
The project itself has led to a half-billion dollars being invested in Gary, but Prince noted that money is also being invested in local companies, which creates a residual economic effect. For example, $52 million was spent on construction contracts for firms based within Lake County, and $32 million of that went to companies located in Gary.
The investment goes beyond just money as well, Prince added. The city’s newest business is also working closely with area organizations, such as the YMCA of Northwest Indiana.
“They’ve ensured that each of the top executive members of their team joins a board of civic organization groups here and… we believe that that has provided them an opportunity to develop a fundamental understanding of the community at large,” Prince said.
Hard Rock Celebrates Jackson Family
As with any Hard Rock, musical memorabilia are as much an attraction as the gaming itself. The signature piece is a guitar owned by Joe Jackson, patriarch to the iconic musical family that grew up in the Rust Belt town.
Jackson bought that guitar more than a half-century ago and used it to play in a band, a moonlighting gig to bring in more money for his family.
As the story goes, in 1964 Joe’s son Tito, then 10 years old, was caught playing the guitar without asking permission thanks to a broken string. After Joe fixed it, he had Tito play it one more time. As Tito played, brothers Jackie and Jermaine sang along. Thus began the family’s musical history, as Marlon and Michael would join their brothers in forming the Jackson 5.
While the Jackson 5 were an iconic group, several family members would go on to memorable solo careers themselves, most notably Michael and sister Janet.
Giovanni Taliaferro, Hard Rock International’s director of memorabilia design, flew to Los Angeles last month to get the instrument from Tito, one of the Jackson 5 members.
It all happened very fast, and I want to thank the entire Jackson family for entrusting us with preserving and showcasing this precious artifact in their hometown,” Taliaferro said at an event showcasing both the guitar and sign.
The guitar also serves as the basis for the 37-foot-tall sign that welcomes visitors to the 200,000-square-foot attraction.
At the grand opening on Friday, other Gary musicians, such as Deneice Williams, best known for the ’80s hit Let’s Hear it for the Boy, were on hand to celebrate the grand opening.
Indiana Investigation Delayed Opening
Groundbreaking on the casino took place in January 2020, but the project was overshadowed by an IGC investigation into Spectacle executives that was tied to alleged illicit campaign contributions that dated back to Centaur Gaming, a company that was owned by Spectacle founder Rod Ratcliff.
The inquiry, which is still ongoing, eventually led to IGC Executive Director Sara Gonso Tait temporarily stopping the transfer of assets from the Majestic Star to Hard Rock Northern Indiana. Ratcliff saw his gaming license suspended, and while he initially sued the commission over that ruling, he reached a settlement that allowed him to retire from gaming. John Keeler, a former Spectacle and Centaur executive, was indicted on federal charges.
Spectacle was also fined $530,000 by the IGC in March as a result of missing a state-imposed deadline to disassociate from Ratcliff.