The Associated Press
Complicated negotiations seem to await a legislative proposal aimed at helping Indiana’s casinos face increased competition from neighboring states after the Indiana House on Monday approved a much leaner proposal than what previously cleared the Senate.
The House voted 73-17 to advance the casino bill shortly after it narrowly approved a separate bill allowing state assistance toward perhaps $100 million improvements at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and use of some casino money to boost motorsports businesses elsewhere in the state.
The House-approved casino bill would allow the state’s 13 casinos to deduct a portion of cost of free gambling given to patrons in promotions, which is estimated to cost the state about $16 million a year when fully implemented.
A House committee dropped provisions that the Senate had approved to allow live table games such as blackjack and roulette at the horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville where only electronic versions of those games are now allowed. The House version also doesn’t follow the Senate in allowing the 10 riverboat casinos along Lake Michigan or the Ohio River to build new in-land facilities on their adjacent properties.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and others House leaders have said they oppose such steps as an expansion of gambling — as has Republican Gov. Mike Pence.
The question of allowing table games with live dealers and real cards at the two horse track casinos is an issue that Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, said he would continue to push as House and Senate negotiators work to reach a compromise version over the next two weeks before the Legislature’s April 29 adjournment deadline.
Eberhart said the state needs to wake up about the additional competition the casinos are facing. He pointed to a 25 percent drop in revenue at two southeastern Indiana casinos in the first month after a new downtown Cincinnati casino opened.
The state is anticipating a 15 percent drop in casino tax collections during the coming years — from $614 million last year to about $520 million for the 2015 budget year.
“We could have been proactive a few years ago,” Eberhart said. “We failed to take those steps and continued to count the golden egg from the golden goose.”
Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, has been the Senate sponsor of the casino bill and said Monday he doesn’t think the House proposal goes far enough to help preserve the thousands of casino jobs around the state.
“There are some that don’t want to expand gambling,” Boots said. “That’s not our goal — it’s just to maintain what we’ve got.”
The House proposal would take $5 million a year in casino tax revenue and direct it to a new motorsports investment fund to help auto racing-related businesses around the state. That plan was added by a House committee as it considered a request for state assistance for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The bill would create a motorsports district for the speedway, with growth in income and sales tax collections from the track and a new ticket fee going toward paying off a loan arranged by the state.
Officials at the speedway — host of the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 — have said possible projects at the track include building and grandstand improvements, better access for disabled people, new video boards and lighting for possible night races.
The House voted 56-36 to advance the plan Monday evening after it earlier fell short of the necessary 51 votes for it to move forward.
Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said he didn’t object to assistance for the speedway but said the plan had too many unanswered details compared with sports districts approved in the past for Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Evansville.
“We knew what it was for, how much it would cost and where the money was coming from,” Bauer said. “So you are voting, I think, in the dark.”
The bill passed on the second vote after Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, told the House that the plan would undergo more work in negotiations on a final version with the Senate.