Indiana Gambling Legislation Pushed To Summer Study

Despite dramatically dropping gaming revenues, the Indiana Senate Public Policy Committee did not vote on legislation that would authorize table games in racinos, give riverboat casinos tax breaks and let them move onto land. Instead, Chairman Ron Alting referred the bill to a summer study committee.

Indiana state Senator Ron Alting, chairman of the Senate Public Policy Committee, said SB364, legislation that would authorize table games in racinos and give riverboat casinos tax breaks and allow them to expand onto land, was not voted on and has been referred to a summer study committee.

State Senator Phil Boots said the bill was “very innovative idea. I think our operators are top notch. They just need the tools to compete with the rest of the world.”

According to Indiana Gaming Commission figures, in recent years Indiana’s gaming revenue has sharply declined. In 2009, wagering topped $2.8 billion but fell to $2.56 billion in 2012—a drop of 11.8 percent. Gaming tax revenue decreased from a peak of nearly $876 million in 2009 to $752 million in fiscal 2013. Casino industry employment also has fallen, with 16,000 people employed in Indiana casinos in 2000 and 12,000 today.

Ernest Yelton, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, in an annual report said most of the blame goes to out-of-state casinos, such as the six new facilities in Ohio. But Yelton also noted “a confluence of a lackluster economy, competition and legislative relief” all played a role in the revenue drop.

Ed Feigenbaum, editor of Indiana Gaming Insight, said competition has had a “tremendous effect but it’s more complicated than that.” He noted, “People don’t have as much disposable income, they don’t have as much money they can spend. They used to choose between going to a high school basketball game or the casino. Now, it’s between going to the casino or paying their mortgage.”

Mike Smith, president of the Casino Association of Indiana, added, “I think ever since we had the major recession, it’s just taking a lot longer for us to get back to where we were.”

The only consolation, Feigenbaum said, is that “Every other market in the country has seen the same thing happen,” including Las Vegas.

Still, not everyone is feeling the pain. Grant Scharton, communications director for Hoosier Park Racing and Casino and Indiana Grand Racing Casino, said, “Both casinos are holding their own. Other than the recent severe weather, we expect no material impact to local racino funds.”

Shelbyville Clerk-Treasurer Frank Zerr said the city’s share of racino funds dropped from $3.1 million in 2012 to $3.06 million in 2013, but the city had more than $5 million in reserve at the end of December. “I think (the city council) did a good job of planning for the future,” Zerr said. Further decreases in casino tax revenue could impact the city’s future budgets, but the council works a year ahead. “By the time we do budgets later in the year, we’ll have a better idea of what’s coming,” Zerr noted.

In Morristown, racino monies dropped from about $16,000 a month to $14,000 a month through November, Clerk-Treasurer Don Roberts said, but the decrease should not affect the 2014 budget. The city also receives a share of riverboat tax revenue annually, which Roberts expects to be lower this year.