By James Platz
Efforts to bring 5,000 electronic pull-tab machines to Hoosier Park, Indiana Downs and two simulcast wagering facilities were defeated Feb. 12 in the Indiana General Assembly.
House Bill 1188 was adopted by the Indiana House and passed on to the Senate last week. Upon its first reading, Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Garton assigned the bill to the Senate Rules Committee, known as a graveyard for legislation.
"I've made it no secret that I'm not in favor of expanding land-based casinos," Garton, R-Columbus, told the Indianapolis Star. "If we did it, then next year, the investors would be back trying for roulette and everything else."
Garton, who also serves as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Senator Larry Borst, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and other Senate Republicans have been outspoken in their reluctance to expand gaming in the state. Proponents of the slot machine-like games were aware HB 1188's primary opposition would come in the Senate.
"I hope the issue gets a full and fair debate in the Senate," Hoosier Park President and General Manager Rick Moore told the Anderson Herald Bulletin
during an interview last week. "Horse racing is big business and touches all 92 counties."
But the pleas of Moore and other industry constituents fell on deaf ears.
HB 1188 called for up to 1,000 electronic pull-tab machines to be installed at both Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs. An additional 1,500 machines were to be allocated at both an Indianapolis and Fort Wayne off-track wagering facility, bringing the total to 5,000 machines statewide. Industry estimates projected the machines could generate more than $490 million annually. The bill also provided stable footing for the state's horse racing industry, which currently receives a $27 million subsidy each year from riverboat admission tax revenue.
Industry representatives were cautiously optimistic last week when HB 1188 was adopted by the full House by a 53-39 margin. The only way the proposal could now become law is if a lawmaker introduced the measure as an amendment to another bill, a longshot for Indiana's horse racing industry.