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Caesars contesting $50M fee for 2 Indiana casino licenses

Updated Monday, March 12, 2018 | 1:59 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — Casino giant Caesars Entertainment is threatening to drop plans for building a new casino in southern Indiana while arguing that it shouldn't be forced to pay a $50 million fee in the state for acquiring two horse track casinos near Indianapolis.

Las Vegas-based Caesars announced in November that it would pay $1.7 billion to buy Centaur Gaming, which owns Hoosier Park, a casino and racetrack in Anderson, and the Indiana Grand casino and racetrack in Shelbyville.

Caesars argues the state fee for transferring those casino licenses shouldn't apply. The company also told the Indiana Gaming Commission that it's reconsidering a $90 million project for building an on-land casino to replace the riverboat at its Horseshoe Southern Indiana casino near Louisville, Kentucky, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported .

Indiana law prohibits one company from owning more than two casinos in Indiana. But that rule doesn't apply to racetrack-based casinos, which are authorized under a different law.

Gaining the two horse-track casinos would give Caesars control over four of the state's five top casinos when measured by gambling revenue.

The Horseshoe Southern project was expected to be introduced at the commission's March 8 meeting. Caesars officials said they'd anticipated the $50 million fee issue would have been resolved prior to that meeting.

"Caesars is now facing some very difficult decisions with regard to its proposed $90 million investment in southern Indiana," Timothy Donovan, executive vice president, general counsel and chief regulatory and compliance officer for Caesars, wrote in an email to Indiana Gaming Commission Executive Director Sara Gonso Tait on March 2.

"We would prefer not pulling it from next week's agenda, but at this point we may have no choice given the continued uncertainty surrounding the $50 million transfer fee," Donovan wrote.

The gaming commission could discuss the fee issue in May or June, when it is expected to review the Caesars-Centaur deal.