The Herald Bulletin

December 5, 2013

Live gaming not on 2014 docket in Indiana

Rep. Dermody, Mike Smith say live gaming discussion 'unlikely'

By Zach Osowski
The Herald Bulletin

---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Casinos hoping for more legislative help for the industry struggling with dropping revenue may have to wait until 2015 to see any new bills.

Rep .Tom Dermody, R-La Porte, the new chair of the House Public Policy Committee, said Thursday he doesn’t foresee any large bills passing this year for the gaming industry. He assumed the role of chairman just three weeks ago and said he is still working to understand all the issues.

Mike Smith, the president and CEO of Casino Associations of Indiana, echoed those thoughts. He said because this upcoming legislation would be short, the few industry bills that might be introduced may not get a hearing.

"I would think with all the things that are going to go on in the Legislature this year we'll probably be looking at 2015," Smith said. "I think that's probably a more realistic time period."

He said it is unfortunate this session is a short one with the issues facing the gaming industry, but he said he would expect to see a very determined effort from a lot of casinos in 2015 to try and improve their marketplace.

Smith and Dermody were joined by Ernie Yelton of the Indiana Gaming Commission and Ed Feigenbaum, editor of Indiana Gaming Insight in Indianapolis to discuss the future of gaming in Indiana.

Profits from casinos in Indiana, a huge source of income for the state government, have steadily dropped since 2009. Part of the reason has been due to the economy and new competition for Indiana casinos. Ohio has recently opened or plans on opening casinos in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland that will threaten to attract Indiana customers.

For the past several years, legislators have discussed how best to help Indiana casinos get back their revenues.

One of those ideas discussed has been live gaming on land-based casinos and racinos such as Hoosier Park in Anderson. Jim Brown, Hoosier Park's president and COO, could not be reached for comment.

Dermody, while not completely ruling it out, said he didn’t think live dealers will be discussed this session.

"I can't even speak to know if that is something that has been filed or not," Dermody said. "But I think that discussion will be for future sessions after this next one."

He said he will be having talks with Gov. Mike Pence about gaming and possible expansion but he said the governor is against any type of expansion, including adding live gaming.

Dermody said he has been in favor of live gaming before but now as chair of the Public Policy Committee needs to think about the impact on a statewide level.

While live gaming would be a good thing for land-based casinos and casinos with racetracks, there is a fear adding that would take customers away from smaller riverboat casinos.

Even though Dermody's inexperience at his new position is a hamper to moving big issues forward this year, Smith said he looks forward to working with the representative over the next few years.

"Representative Dermody obviously comes from a community that has gaming, he doesn't have any personal opposition to gaming," Smith said. "So I think from an industry standpoint he's a very open individual and it's going to be good to have someone of his character in that position."

Smith said 2015 might be time for the casinos to look at the industry as a whole and how they might change it.

“We are facing some troubling times right now,” Smith said. “Going forward we have to look at our business model. We have to look at expanding our model.”

Specifically, he wants to try and reform the way casinos are taxed.

“For the future of the industry, we need to look at the whole tax model,” Smith said. “And certainly we need to look at the admission tax.”

Follow Zach Osowski on Twitter @Osowski_THB or call him at 640-4847.