Indiana Gaming bill passes House, Senate; heads to governor's desk

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Legislators reached a deal Wednesday afternoon that could bring a casino to Terre Haute, introduce live gaming to racinos and offer sports betting in Indiana.

The agreement would allow one of two licenses in Gary owned by Spectacle Entertainment to be moved to Vigo County. The Terre Haute license holder would be decided through a bid, and Spectacle could offer a bid.

The change also awaits a Vigo County voter referendum to approve the move. And the casino investment would need to invest $100 million in Vigo County, 35 percent of which must be spent on non-gaming amenities.

The Terre Haute casino would receive tax credits totaling $40 million over five years.

Both chambers debated the bill during the same evening hour. The Senate spent about 45 minutes discussing the bill, voting 37-12 to approve it. The House took an hour before voting 59-36 in support at 8:21 p.m.

The bill awaits the signature of Gov. Eric Holcomb before becoming law.

"I think it benefits everyone and even the state makes money off of this," said Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson.

Her district includes Harrah's Hoosier Park, one of two racinos that would be allowed to have live dealers for table games beginning Jan. 1, 2020. The state's other racino is Indiana Grand in Shelbyville.

"Our community's been waiting for table games, and we're pleased we can move it up to Jan. 1, 2020," Austin said. "It will be a whole new amenity at Hoosier Park and Indiana Grand."

Some opponents thought it hurt revenue income in other areas of the state including Rep. Randy Frye, R-Greensburg, whose southeastern Indiana district includes the Rising Star casino in Rising Sun. He said Ohio County would take $600,000 in less revenue under the plan.

"We're going to build this on the backs of the poorest people in our state," said Frye who asked House members to hold off on the vote and come back Thursday.

Legislators in northwestern Indiana and representing casino areas were generally in favor, saying the plan would bring jobs to their communities.

Sports betting would be allowed on mobile apps but the user would have to register with the state. Patrons would be able to register at a licensed gambling facility or online through a state-approved vendor. No one under 21 could register to wager on sports events.

"The gaming environment is changing rapidly," Austin said. "It is becoming much more competitive. We now have an Indian casino in our state that we have no ability to regulate. ... It's not just the nature of gaming, it's the nature of entertainment."

Also, with the removal of one license from Lake County, officials worried over the loss of gaming revenue. The agreement "holds harmless" taxing units from their loss with a guarantee that East Chicago, Hammond and Michigan City would receive supplemental tax distributions. Among others, French Lick and West Baden Springs also are to receive tax revenue for historic use.

Other opponents worried that it set a new policy tone for the state.

"Mobile gaming, I don't even know where to start with that. We talk about minors having access," Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, said.

For decades, gaming has been allowed only on existing licensed properties, Smaltz said. "This is a monumental policy shift," Smaltz said.


Provisions of the bill also include:

• Live dealers would be permitted in casinos beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

• License fees of $20 million would be assessed should Spectacle Entertainment decide to move one of licenses out of Buffington Harbor and inland into Gary. The company may seek more accessible interstate access.

• The Indiana Gaming Commission is to set up parameters for the use of league data in sports betting.

• Casino ownership limits will be eased. For example, Caesar's currently owns two casino and two racino licenses, effectively giving it four casinos. "There's really no logic to continue at the two-license limit," Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, said. "We've got provision that the (Indiana Gaming) commission before they approve any license, any consolidations in the future can factor in the economic concentration of one casino operator."

While a referendum is still required, Messmer said if Vigo County votes in favor of a casino, Vigo County would be awarded one of Spectacle Entertainment’s two Gary licenses, regardless of whether Spectacle leaves Buffington Harbor in Gary.

“If Terre Haute has its referendum approved, the commission will decide who the operator will be," Messmer said.

Overall, Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, has said he was pleased with the direction of the legislation.

“I’m very happy that Terre Haute is still in it as it takes the next step in the process,” Ford said. “That’s been the goal all along.”