Casino bill to have third, final reading today

by Administrator
in Casino

While not all state representatives from the Wabash Valley agree that Vigo County needs, or should even want a casino, each said it’s going to be a hectic final two weeks at the statehouse as the legislation likely faces substantive changes.

As written, Senate Bill 552, authored by Republican Sens. Jon Ford of Terre Haute and Mark Messmer of Jasper, would create a gaming license for Vigo County should a public referendum in November or May 2020 be successful.

If the referendum were to pass, legislation would require the formation of a Vigo County casino advisory board. The board will be responsible for evaluating proposals to operate a casino in Vigo County.

The board would then forward its recommendations to the Indiana Gaming Commission. The commission would select the top three proposals and open an “auction process.”

The auction would be at an advertised meeting of the gaming commission and would see each of the finalists submit one bid. The highest of the three would be awarded the license. It requires a minimum bid of $25 million.

SB 552 made it through second reading in the House on Thursday with relatively minor changes. It will be heard again in the House on third and final reading today.

Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, intends to vote against SB 552 today, saying he is as against gambling in general as he is against an expansion of it around the state.

“I’ve always said and still believe that gambling is economic development for people who are bad at math,” Borders said. “And ultimately what often happens with these places is it comes in with all the excitement and the bling and you get a great turnout initially.

“But later what happens is ... they become a regressive tax on the poor. I do not, and will not support the expansion of gaming in Indiana.”

Reps. Tonya Pfaff, Bob Heaton and Alan Morrison each said they intend to vote in favor SB 552 today and agree it’s important to let the people of Vigo County decide what’s best for them via referendum.

“I think it’s very important that Vigo County has the opportunity to have a casino,” said Pfaff, D-Terre Haute. “What I believe is we need the opportunity to let voters decide. From what I’ve heard, all kinds of cities in Indiana want a casino and we need to at least have that choice.”

Heaton agreed, saying he sees it as his job to give the people of Vigo County a voice in bringing something as divisive as a casino to the area.

“I think it could be an economic driver for the area. And when I talk to people they seem all seem to be in favor of it, of course I’m sure there are people who aren’t,” said Heaton, R-Terre Haute. “But based on the referendum language in there, the people in Vigo County will get to make that decision for themselves.”

And while not all the legislators agree on the supposed benefits of a casino, they all said the bill is far from a finished product.

If it passes third reading today, as each of the area legislators expect it to, SB 552 would then likely go to conference committee.

Its there that Morrison, R-Brazil, expects SB 552 will again see substantive changes.

 “As 552 sits right now, even though I’m voting for it, there is a lot wrong with it and it’ll be a big lift to change some of it,” Morrison said.

Specifically, Morrison said creating a separate license for Vigo County, as was amended into the bill by the House Ways and Means Committee last week, is a hurdle he doesn’t think the legislation can clear.

“I think it’s wishful thinking that the legislature would agree to a 14th license and expand gaming in the state,” Morrison said. “Keeping that in would make it a very difficult situation. I think it needs to be changed back to something closer to what the Senate proposed.”

Originally, the Senate proposed Vigo would only get a license if Spectacle Entertainment, owner of two casino licenses in Gary, moved its operation inland from Buffington Harbor. The move would have triggered a forfeiture of Spectacle’s second license and awarded it to Vigo County.

“I mean we all want the same thing, we just seem to be going about it in different ways,” Morrison said of the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill. “But that’s a part of politics, really, trying to find a spot to land on big issues like this.

Heaton agreed, saying conjecture as to what the final bill will look like, some two weeks from the end of the session, isn’t worth exploring much.

“What we vote on on Monday will likely be far different than what we see in the final bill,” Heaton said. “But the main thing is we just keep the bill going.”