GARY — One of the biggest gambles in the history of Indiana's gaming industry has unquestionably paid off across the board.
Nearly one year ago, on May 14, 2021, the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana threw open its doors to the public for the first time, bringing land-based gaming to Northwest Indiana and creating an entertainment destination that's quickly become the top-earning casino in the Hoosier State.
"It's been an unbelievable first year," said Matt Schuffert, president of the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana.
Schuffert was among dozens of dignitaries, including several original members of the Jackson 5, to smash a guitar — in true rock star fashion — during grand opening ceremonies at the casino, located adjacent to eastbound Interstate 80/94 and Burr Street in Gary.
Since that day, hundreds of thousands of guests have visited the Hard Rock Casino to try their luck at the 79 table games and 1,612 slot machines, and to enjoy the other amenities inside the $300 million, 200,000-square foot facility.
"We wanted to create an entertainment destination that provides an experience that extends beyond gaming," Schuffert said.
"Top-tier musicians performing live every weekend, including Country Music Fridays in the Hard Rock Café, five delicious dining options, and a chance to view rare pieces of memorabilia from the world of music keep guests returning to Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana week after week."
Over the past year, the Hard Rock Casino also has sent many, many people home whistling a happy tune with more money in their pockets than they had when they came in.
According to casino officials, Hard Rock guests have won more than 58,000 jackpots worth at least $1,200 or more, with an average jackpot prize of $2,447.54 and total jackpot winnings of more than $142 million.
In addition, 66 Northwest Indiana community organizations have received nearly $700,000 in donations from the casino during its first year of operations.
The casino also has paid more than $100 million in wagering taxes to the state, county, and local governments, and $6.5 million in direct support to the city of Gary.
Records show the Hard Rock currently employs 1,445 "band members," a number that's likely to grow in future years as Hard Rock looks to add a hotel, meeting space and more amenities to better compete with future casinos slated for south suburban Cook County and Chicago, Illinois, as well as its Northwest Indiana rivals in Hammond, East Chicago and Michigan City.
The Hard Rock was made possible, in part, by a 2019 Indiana law authorizing consolidation of the two Majestic Star casino boats at Gary's Buffington Harbor onto a single gaming license and relocation to a more favorable site within the Steel City.
But even after securing legislative approval, the casino still had to successfully overcome challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain interruptions, licensing issues tied to the original owners, and a pandemic economy in free-fall.
The casino now is owned and operated as a commercial business enterprise of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Records show the second Gary casino license was reassigned to the west-central Indiana city of Terre Haute, where Churchill Downs soon plans to break ground on its Queen of Terre Haute Casino.
All visitors to the Hard Rock Casino, including its restaurants, must be 21 or older. Admission and parking at the casino are free.