LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WTWO/WAWV) — Churchill Downs may be preparing for its first casino in Indiana, but the company has been entertaining visitors at its Louisville location through the Kentucky Derby for 150 years.
“What we know we can bring to Terre Haute that we’ve brought to the Kentucky Derby is that sense of keeping our finger on the pulse, keeping our guests happy, and really listening to them and evolving and, and creating experiences that grow with them and grow with the times,” Vice President of Corporate Communications Tonya Abeln said. “What we really hope to do is to create that Kentucky Derby-like bucket list experience in Terre Haute, Indiana.”
A mywabashvalley.com team visited CDI in Kentucky in late January to get a behind-the-scenes exclusive look at its operations there as well as some first looks at the Queen of Terre Haute Casino.
The company filed an application with the Vigo County Area Planning Department on Jan. 7 to build the casino and other amenities off of East Margaret Avenue west of State Road 46. The approximately 50 acres of land would allow for future development as well as the planned resort.
For that initial project, CDI executives spent time in Terre Haute to learn what aspects of the city’s culture should be included in the design.
“As we looked at different imagery around town…you’ll start to see that pop up in the artwork around the property,” Senior Vice President of Gaming Operations Austin Miller said. “You’ll see it in the hotel rooms, you’ll see it in the lobbies and some of the pathways around.”
Miller said there were phases that some of the logos went through to reach their final form.
“We knew we wanted to have the state of Indiana reflected in the logo, you know, some of the imagery, the queen, the crown,” Miller explained. “So the logo just kept evolving over time. Then, at the Crossroads Sports Bar, we talked about Highway 40 and U.S. 41 and that’s the crossroads of America. So, I had to use that.
The name for the steakhouse inside the casino came from a piece of Terre Haute history that is pretty closely related to the origin of CDI.
“For the steakhouse, we weren’t sure what to call it,” Miller said. “But as we did more research, it turns out in the late 1800s, there was a racetrack there called the Four Corner Racetrack and there was a world champion horse that set a world record there.”
The casino layout, which is similar to the Derby City Gaming facility we toured in Louisville, is designed with guests in mind.
“If you walk our floor, you’ll feel that we take a lot of pride and we take our time and lay out the floor in a way that’s appealing to our guests,” Derby City Gaming President and General Manager Tim Bryant said.
During the visit, we got a look at the equivalent of the Crossroads Sports Bar at Derby City Gaming. Bryant said the company continues to replicate similar concepts due to their success among visitors, a sentiment Miller echoed when describing the gaming floor design.
“We don’t do traditional rows and rows of slot machines,” Miller said. “The traditional slot bank is six to eight games long and they just put them in a row after row after row. What we typically try to do is take people on a journey with a meandering pathway through the floor plan.”
Food options at the casino will be carefully chosen by the CDI team.
“What we’ll start to do is focus on what’s available locally in terms of food and where’s the gap and where can we fill the gap?” Miller explained. “We know what typically our casino guests like, but I want to tailor it to what Terre Haute wants and what Terre Haute needs.”
The property’s hotel will offer many options for local and out-of-town guests.
“We have many levels of rooms where people can progress to,” Miller said. “If you come in with a standard room, then maybe you go to a junior suite and then a corner suite and then a super suite. And then with any luck you end up in the presidential.”
CDI execs said collaboration with Terre Haute leaders was essential throughout the planning process.
“We talked a lot with about the folks with the convention center and we want to supplement what they’re doing,” Miller said. “We don’t wanna compete with them, so our room is gonna be limited to 500 seats.”
And that collaboration won’t end once the Queen of Terre Haute is open and operating.
“From the beginning of this project, that’s been one of the things that we’ve been most excited about is an opportunity to support Vigo County and Terre Haute nonprofits,” Senior Vice President of Corporate Development Jason Sauer said. “And to support the Vigo County Community Plan for 2025. We as a company that’s gonna come in can tangibly support that plan and support it with real money, with three to four million a year that we think this property is gonna contribute to local nonprofits to supporting that local community development plan.”
“We’re building this for the folks in the Terre Haute region,” Miller said. “This isn’t a Churchill Downs monument we’re putting in there. This is gonna be part of the local, the fabric of the community.”