Tuesday, August 01, 2000

Ind. town frets over casino delay

Everybody's talking about boat collision

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE, Ind. — News of a collision on theMississippi River involving a new casino swept quickly upstream Monday, all the way to Switzerland County, Ind., where the casino's arrival — and tax revenue — are eagerly anticipated.

        Now, the Aug. 21 opening of the Belterra casino is indefinitely delayed, Belterra general manager John Spina said Monday.

        “People are talking, oh my gosh, there were a lot of local people on it,” said Sandi Kidwell of Florence, where the Belterra casino complex has been built in the shadow of the Markland Dam, 7 miles east of Vevay.

        "I've heard today that, "How's this gonna affect the money coming in?'” said Ms. Kidwell, a native of Delhi Township.

        That question remained unanswered Monday because Belterra is uncertain how long the opening will be delayed. Switzerland is one of Indiana's poorest counties and has been eagerly awaiting the casino and the $12 million annually in tax revenue it's expected to generate for the county.

        But until then, a third of Switzerland's work force is employed outside the county, many of them in industrial jobs across the Ohio River in Kentucky. The casino should change that.

        The 2000 budget for Switzerland County (population 9,000) is $1.7 million.

        “Of course, everybody's talkin' about it,” Vevay Town Council President Earl Van Winkle said. “But this riverboat has never been here, so we're still waiting. We're getting more rumors than anything. We're hoping to get this going because we have a lot of people invested in this casino, with jobs.”

        Mr. Spina responded by saying that although the opening is postponed, workers who were expected to start in August will be kept on the payroll. The casino is expected to employ 1,500 people, the majority of whom are local residents.

        Three Belterra workers suffered minor injuries Monday morning when the casino boat — newly built and en route to Switzerland County — collided with a towboat on the Mississippi, about 75 miles north of Memphis, Tenn.

        “We have no idea how long the delay will be,” Mr. Spina told the Enquirer. “Obviously, we want to get open and start contributing tax dollars. It's a bump in the road we're gonna get through.”


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