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Foundation celebrates decade of service

Foundation celebrates decade of service
Foundation celebrates decade of service
Anthony Sanfilippo, president of the Central Division of Harrah's Entertainment, parent company of Caesars Indiana, addresses the nearly 400 people who celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Harrison County Community Foundation last Tuesday night. (Photo by Chris Timberlake)

About 400 people turned out last week for the 10th anniversary celebration of the Harrison County Community Foundation. Celebrants heard first-hand plans for a $100 million upgrade of the Caesars gaming complex at Bridgeport.
Harrahs previously announced a $50 million upgrade of the facility, but Tuesday night those plans were expanded to include both the four-level casino boat and the land improvements.
The buffet celebration in the Colosseum at Caesars was attended by present and former directors of the Foundation, 2006 Advisory Council members, elected officials, charitable fund-holders, donors, grant recipients, Foundation staff and Caesars’ officials.
‘It’s really a delight to reflect back on all of the good work that has been accomplished,’ said Ed Garruto, vice president and general manager of Ceasars Indiana, referring to the accomplishments made possible through Foundation grants and scholarships.
The Foundation was established in 1996 with a $5 million gift from Caesars when the license was first approved by the gaming commission.
Since opening for business in late 1998, Caesars has contributed regularly to the Foundation in keeping with an incentive agreement allowing it to operate in Harrison County. Those payments, coupled with endowments established over the years with the Foundation from private and non-profit sources, have brought the Foundation’s assets as of Nov. 10 to $70 million, Steve Gilliland, executive director of the Foundation, announced to an applauding audience.
‘What is good for Caesars has been good for Harrison County and vice versa,’ said Garruto. ‘What is good for Harrison County has been good for Caesars.’
And that is going to continue, according to Anthony Sanfilippo, president of the Central Division of Harrahs’ Entertainment, parent company of Caesars.
Referring to the recent vote in Clark County to allow a gaming license in Clarksville, Sanfilippo told the crowd Caesars would continue to support its operation in Harrison County.
Since all of the allowable licenses in Indiana have been awarded, a gaming company would have to relocate in Clarksville or the legislature would have to approve another license before riverboat gaming could operate there.
To underscore continued support, Sanfilippo said Harrahs will invest $50 million more than originally announced on renovating the gaming complex at Bridgeport ‘ $50 million on the vessel and another $50 million on land amenities, such as the pavilion, restaurants, Colosseum, hotel, etc.
The complex will be converted from the Caesars’ theme to reflect the Horseshoe brand, which Harrahs now owns.
‘Within 1-1/2 years, we will be investing $100 million in Harrison County,’ Sanfilippo said. ‘We take very seriously our commitment to running a first-rate facility.
‘It helps the Foundation as our business continues to grow,’ he said, because the agency receives a percentage of Caesars’ gross revenue.
Since the Foundation’s revenue from Caesars topped the $50 million mark, Harrison County now receives 75 percent of those incentive payments from Caesars. The revenue is deposited into an endowment, from which earnings can be used as officials see fit.
All that aside, Sanfilippo took a brief step back in time, to the three-week span a year ago when Hurricane Katrina and then Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, where several of Harrahs’ casinos operated.
‘It was like being on a disaster movie set,’ Sanfilippo said. ‘It would be like looking at where you live and seeing nothing but debris.’
In the aftermath of the storms, Harrahs had 9,000 employees working at four casinos who were among the countless numbers on the Gulf Coast who were out of work and virtually homeless. ‘It was a situation we had never encountered before,’ he said.
‘We continued to pay our employees for 90 days and continued their insurance,’ Sanfilippo said.
And a massive recovery effort began. ‘Over $8 million was raised to restart their lives,’ he said, adding that no one ever knows when a catastrophe could strike, such as a car crash or illness.
‘We are all just one event away from a life-changing experience.
‘You were kind enough to donate $100,000 to our employees, and I want to thank you for that,’ Sanfilippo said. ‘It’s so important to have people like you who care, who give of themselves.’
He also thanked the 2,100 staff members of Caesars Indiana who contributed to the efforts.
‘It is an honor to be able to spend some time with you,’ he told the crowd. ‘You are a group of givers.’
The invocation was given by the Rev. Scott Hill, pastor of Corydon Presbyterian Church. In closing, a Caesars Indiana employee Terrance Hazard sang ‘God Bless America’ softly, a cappella, as the audience stood.