Indiana Legislator Claims Bill Not Expansion

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (l.) has not clarified what he means when he says he's against expanded gambling. But state Rep. Tom Dermody said his proposed legislation does not expand gambling. His bill would allow the state's 10 riverboat casinos to move ashore, permit live dealers at racinos, extend free-play and provide capital incentives.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence consistently has stated he does not want to downsize the state’s casino industry, but he also does not want it to expand. However, he has not made clear what he would consider

expanded gambling. But House Public Policy Committee Chairman Tom Dermody said his proposed legislation, House Bill 1540, which would allow riverboat casinos to move ashore and permit live dealers at racinos addresses Pence’s vagueness. “I think we found some opportunities that aren’t considered an expansion of gaming,” Dermody said. His measure also would extend free-play by two years and offer incentives for capital construction.

The bill aims to stop the ongoing decline in total state tax revenues from Indiana’s 13 casinos due to increased competition in neighboring states. According to the Indiana Gaming Commission, revenue fell by 13 percent, or $99 million, in the fiscal year ending June 30. Forecasters in December projected annual gaming revenue would drop another 12 percent, or $56 million, or 12 percent, for the fiscal year ending June 2017.

Dermody, who led a summer study committee on gaming, said his bill is based on that panel’s unanimous recommendations. The proposal would allow Indiana’s 10 riverboats along the Ohio River and Lake Michigan to build casinos on property adjacent to their current sites. The measure also would allow the state’s two racinos, Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Grand in Shelbyville, to offer live dealers for blackjack and other currently electronic table games.

John Keeler, vice president and general counsel for Centaur Gaming, which owns the Anderson and Shelbyville casinos, said, “We don’t believe that substituting a live person for a machine at what is now an electronic table is an expansion.” He said live dealers would attract gamblers who stay away from computerized games and therefore help boost business. Centaur President and Chief Operating Officer Jim Brown said allowing live table games could create 600 new jobs between the two racino properties.

State Rep. Sean Eberhart, who will co-sponsor Dermody’s bill, said adding live dealers could create hundreds of jobs at Indiana Grand, his district’s largest employer. “It’s a huge jobs bill for both Shelbyville and Anderson. It gives the casino industry different tools to use and to help them counter the competition they are seeing from other states.”

State Rep. Terri Austin also will co-sponsor Dermody’s bill. She said, “The gaming industry is rapidly changing. It’s a very competitive business. We’ve seen the states around us adopt gaming enterprises and they are coming after the Indiana market.”

But supporters of the changes do not have an easy road ahead. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said, “I’m not willing to mortgage our future further into the gaming abyss for a few dollars in the bottom line. I don’t look at the falling gaming revenues and hit the panic button as some do.”

Democratic state Senator Earline Rogers said she does not consider allowing casinos to move onto land to be an expansion of gambling. “Casinos have contributed to our economy for many years. They should be treated like any other business,” she said.

State Rep. Alan Morrison also has sponsored two gambling-related bills. One would legalize sports betting at racinos and other gaming establishments. Morrison said legal sports betting could generate $12-$17 million in annual revenue. The bill would have to pass both chambers of the legislature, be signed by Pence and approved by the Indiana Gaming Commission.

Morrison’s second bill would allow wagering on fantasy sports at racinos. “This is a game of skill, not a game of chance. If we are going to have gaming facilities, I don’t think we can expect casinos to be as successful today if we give them the same tools they had 20-30 years ago. Interests change and I think we need to recognize that,” he said.