FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Gambling on its face can be seen as a controversial issue.
It’s the focus of a multitude of laws and its own governing force in the Hoosier State, The Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC).
One of the allowed forms of gambling in Indiana is charity gaming, gambling where a large portion of the proceeds must go to a charity or other qualified organizations.
Normally, charity gaming is used to raise money for a cause via bingo, charity game tickets, raffles or casino game tables at an event.
But Elks Lodge 155 runs an entire casino based on the concept in Fort Wayne, and it might have been doing so illegally for years.
The Elks Casino, located at 3233 St. Joe Center Road, was approved to operate as a charity gambling facility in Neighborhood Commercial zoning by the Fort Wayne Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on May 18 of this year.
The only issue is that they have been operating a casino out of the location for much longer.
“We just approved one [casino] that was operating illegally in a neighborhood center,” said Russ Jehl, 2nd district councilman. “Which really means that almost any commercial location could become a casino.”
The oldest Facebook post on the Elks Casino page was in 2021, and according to the page, the location has been hosting events since July of the same year.
“It is more easy to open a charity casino in Fort Wayne than it is to open a snow cone stand,” Jehl said. “At least a snow cone stand requires a local health board approval.”
And that revelation led Jehl to author a resolution that would request the Department of Planning Services to better define what “betting or other gaming facility” actually means.
The end goal for Jehl is to make it harder for casinos to pop up without warning in areas zoned “C3” where betting and gambling are currently allowed.
That non-binding resolution was passed by Fort Wayne City Council on Tuesday night.
“Our zoning is horribly antiquated that you can tell the public that you are running a casino, and then tell the zoning commission that you are just a gaming facility,” Jehl said. “If you can find a C3 and as long as you can find a charity that will give you a gaming license, you can open it without any local approval.”
Beyond theoretical concerns, Jehl alleges that fears of a large casino popping up in his district were made real.
“There was a great scare recently,” Jehl said. “It was contemplated that the former Marsh building at Rothman and Maplecrest might have a large casino open there without any approval from the community.”
WANE 15 cannot confirm whether a casino was set for the location.
Currently, Poochickieburger LLC owns the property, and the company had plans for an entertainment complex in the building, but the plan never came to fruition.