Indiana Legislators At Odds Over Live Dealers

The Indiana House's version of HB 1540 would allow live dealers at the state's two racinos immediately. The Senate would prohibit them until 2021. Meanwhile, bill sponsors state Rep. Tom Dermody and state Senator Jim Arnold are in hot water with the Pokagon Band over certain provisions that would impact the tribe's proposed South Bend casino.

As the clock winds down on the Indiana legislative session, ending April 29, the House and Senate both agree on a provision of HB 1540 that would allow Indiana’s 10 riverboats along Lake Michigan and the Ohio River the option to build new on-land casinos on property near their current locations.

But the chambers cannot agree on the issue of allowing live dealers at the state’s two horse racetracks, Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Grand in Shelbyville. In February House members endorsed the live dealers provision and approved it to take effect immediately. The Senate, fearing a veto by Governor Mike Pence who consider lives dealers an expansion of gambling, would not allow live dealers at the racinos until 2021.

State Rep. Terri Austin said she did not understand why the live dealers provision would be regarded as a gambling expansion if no additional table games were added at the two racetracks. “We focused on the solution for the industry as a whole. If we are going to start picking and choosing favorites, then I will expect some support to fall off.”

The House version also includes state tax incentives for casinos to build new facilities, including hotels, performance venues and restaurants. The Senate version dropped those incentives but calls for a special committee to study the state’s casino tax system.

The bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Tom Dermody, said he expected the House and Senate to work out a compromise. “Greed kills more deals, but I think we can come to a good compromise before it’s all over,” he said.

Dermody and HB 1540’s Senate sponsor, state Senator Jim Arnold, are in hot water with the Pokagon Band, the National Indian Gaming Association and the National Congress of American Indians for statements regarding the tribe’s pursuit of a casino in South Bend. HB 1540 requires any gaming compact to be submitted to lawmakers for ratification, and also includes language regarding the management of the Indian tribe’s gaming operations, administration and regulation of gaming, infrastructure and site improvements and the types of games offered by the tribe.

Pokagon Tribal Chairman John Warren said, “A lot of that language in there is a violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The management, the infrastructure. This legislation is actually inhibiting the governor from negotiating in good faith even before negotiations have begun.”

Warren has urged lawmakers to remove the tribal gaming provision, and said if that doesn’t happen, he will ask Governor Mike Pence to veto the legislation. “The Pokagon Band has called Indiana home for hundreds of years and well before the date that Indiana achieved statehood. The Pokagon Band deserves more respect from the Indiana legislature,” Warren added.

Dermody and Arnold represent LaPorte County, home to the Blue Chip riverboat casino.

Speaking in support of HB 1540, Arnold said, “I don’t want to say, ‘The Indians are coming, the Indians are coming.’ But they’re coming. We have to be prepared.” Dermody stated the bill would give lawmakers a role in Class III gaming negotiations. “We need to do whatever we can, and we know we’re limited, in making it not so easy, and make them understand that we are concerned about their developing a casino in South Bend,” Dermody said.

The South Bend city council recently voted unanimously to support the Pokagon’s proposed casino, hotel, housing and clinic on a 166-acre site on tribal lands. In addition, at a public meeting of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, South Bend residents also overwhelmingly supported the casino project for the jobs and revenue it could bring to their community.

NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens said in letters to the lawmakers, “There is no place in today’s society for tired stereotypes from a sad and tragic era. As an elected official, I would hope that you would refrain from these types of divisive attacks in the future.” NCIA Executive Director Jackie Pata also wrote letters stating, “At NCAI we are always concerned that persistent stereotypes lead to harmful statements, but we see this as an opportunity for education and growth that could lead to better understanding and partnership between the tribe, yourself and your fellow legislators.”

The tribe expects a final decision on the South Bend from the BIA in 10 to 18 months.