Cook Group Only Casino Bidder

French Lick Springs Hotel prior to when the east wing was added.
“Half of the casino profits would go toward historic preservation, restoration, and education in the region.”

By DeAnna Wrenn
Associated Press
April 21, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — A partnership between Bloomington-based CFC Properties and a real estate developer was the only group to meet Wednesday’s deadline for applications for an Orange County casino license dropped by Donald Trump’s company.

The partnership between CFC, a Cook Group Company, and Lauth Property Group Inc. of Indianapolis submitted the only application and a $50,000 application fee by the 3 p.m. deadline, Indiana Gaming Commission executive director Ernest Yelton said.

The application, which was filed under the name Blue Sky Casino LLC, proposes that the southern Indiana riverboat casino would be operated by Majestic Star, Yelton said. Majestic owns and operates a riverboard casino in Gary.

Last week, the Bloomington-based medical device maker Cook and Lauth proposed a $200 million casino project that would restore the French Lick Springs Resort & Spa and the nearby West Baden Springs Hotel. The riverboat would be moored in a lagoon dug next to the French Lick hotel.

Cook Group’s half-interest in the project would be held by a nonprofit charitable foundation. Under the proposal, half of the casino profits would go toward historic preservation, restoration, and education in the region.

On Tuesday, the CEO for Chicago-based Merit Gaming — a former partner with Lauth in the Lost River Development LLC, which bid previously on the project — said he didn’t know Lauth was pursuing the contract with Cook Group.

“When you go in, bid together and have the opportunity and the process we did, the team is still the same,” said CEO Joseph Canfora.

In a press release, the company called the announcement of a Cook/Lauth partnership “unusual and surprising,” and said Merit believes its partnership with Lauth is legally enforceable.

Lauth general counsel Vernon Back said allegations the partnership with Cook was done behind closed doors are untrue.

“Nothing was done secretly,” he said. “We told Merit repeatedly that if they reopened the process, we’d be going in a different direction.”

He added, “I’m disappointed with Merit and their attempts to discredit us.”

Cook chairman Steve Ferguson said Tuesday he was pleased with the project.

“We didn’t make this proposal to come in second,” he said.

As for the project, Yelton said the process of awarding the contract would essentially remain the same, even though there is only one applicant.

Background checks will be conducted, and the Gaming Commission will determine whether the proposal is appropriate.

The Gaming Commission reopened the bid process for the riverboat casino contract last month after Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, which was awarded the license last year, dropped its plans after filing for bankruptcy protection.

A development group that included Indiana basketball legend Larry Bird bid during the first round of proposals, but lost out to the Trump submission. It was not known Wednesday why Bird’s group, which just last month had expressed its continued interest in a French Lick casino, did not submit a new application.

The commission has set a June deadline for making its decision on the license.

“The decision here is not between applicants; it’s ‘Is this a thumbs up or a thumbs down?’” Yelton said.

Reporter Bethany Nolan contributed to this report.