Indiana Governor Playing Games

Card games played at senior centers are safe from shutdown, Indiana Governor Mike Pence (l.) said last week. Rumors that euchre clubs would be halted state gaming commission were untrue, but prizes for winners were nixed just in case.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence recently was drawn into the hubbub over a rumor that the state planned to prosecute senior citizens in Muncie who played the card game euchre at the Delaware County Senior Citizens Center, in violation of state gaming law. Through a spokesman, Pence said he not only had no plans to “shut down” the senior card games, but also would ask the Indiana Gaming Commission to “ensure common sense prevails when reviewing complaints and concerns.”

The executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission said the state “did not, and never had, any plans to take enforcement action” against the group.

The situation began when the state contacted euchre clubs at the Delaware County center and told them to end the thrice-weekly practice of charging members $2.50 to play in a series of games in which winners received as prizes cookies, canned fruit, toilet paper or cleaning supplies, among others. The Delaware County center discontinued offering prizes in the games, and so did other senior centers.

Ruth Bosch of the Jennings County senior center said, “Something has to be done so a large part of the population can legally play cards. The law has to be amended. If you are a fraternal or veterans group you can play, but at a senior center, where they contribute 50 cents toward a prize of a can of peaches, they can’t do it. They’re getting toilet paper and peaches and the state somehow sees this as a huge issue. It’s not a good law.”

Judy Elton, Delaware County Senior Center executive director, was concerned that ending the euchre game would impact the center’s line, since it earned $1 of each $2.50 fee, about $30 per gaming session. She added, “This is not exactly your standard scandal. The seniors are outraged. I’ve encouraged them to write their state representatives.”

Bosch of the Jennings County location did contact her representative in an attempt to find a solution that would allow the center’s seniors to play euchre as usual. “I’ve fought this for a year. The problem with the way the law is written, you can only play cards if you are a fraternal or veterans organization. That is so debilitating to groups like the senior center in Muncie and to us.”

Current Indiana gaming laws were enacted in the 1990s, following a boom in bingo where many of the games were run in the name of local groups or charities, before out-of-state operators kept most of the profits, including substantial amounts wagered in electronic poker machines. As the state-sanctioned lottery and casinos soon came along, the state approved various games for various lengths of time for different groups. The state gaming commission’s most recent annual report noted 3,466 organizations are qualified to conduct charity gaming in Indiana.

Regarding the euchre groups, state Gaming Commission Director Sara Tait said in a statement, “We responded to a complaint from a member of two euchre card clubs regarding mishandling of funds at one of the clubs utilizing a senior center for gaming. Consistent with our goal of educating organizations about charity gaming compliance, the organizations were sent a form email with information about the kinds of licenses available. We distribute regularly such email information following the receipt of a complaint. As is consistent with our practice in such matters, once the Indiana Gaming Commission sent the email, there was no intention to address this further and no additional communication, as expending resources on such minor issues is not consistent with Commission priorities.”

Tait added she had “reached out” to the Muncie groups and “clarified to them that the gaming commission’s position is we’re not pursuing any action against them, nor did we intend to do that.”

Elton said now the clubs do not require anyone to pay in to play; instead they take donations. She added no one may ever know who complained to the commission, starting the whole brouhaha. Player Janet Wise said, “I don’t think I want to know who ratted it out, because I don’t like to carry anger with me. And I’d probably be a little angry.”