Indiana Racetrack Slots Bill Advances Again

A bill that calls for slot machines at Indiana’s two pari-mutuel racetracks took another big step forward March 29 when it was approved by the Senate by a 27-21 vote.

The legislation calls for up to 1,500 machines each at Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs. The measure now returns to the House, where changes made by the Senate can be approved or rejected by lawmakers.

In the Senate version, licensing fees each track would pay to operate slots quadrupled from $100 million proposed by the House to $400 million. Licensing fees would be paid to the state’s general fund.

The number of machines at each facility was slashed from 2,500 to 1,500. The bill was also amended to state that each track would be required to conduct 140 days of live racing (50 Thoroughbred), a decrease of 20 days from the previous version.

In addition, 15% of gross adjusted receipts from slots revenue would be allocated to purses and breed development, with the state’s Thoroughbred industry receiving 46 percent of the total.

The bill brought comments from senators in favor of and against slots at the tracks. Some considered the measure an expansion of gaming and questioned whether it was sound policy.

“The only way we win is Hoosiers have to lose,” Republican Sen. Michael Young said. “Is that the way we want to run our government? Don’t let it be a situation where our citizens lose so we can gain.”

Republican Sen. Luke Kenley also was critical of the bill. Kenley serves as the chairman of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, which advanced slots legislation to the full Senate by a 9-3 vote March 20 and offered the amendments that increased licensing fees and cut the number of machines at each track. Despite his amendments, Kenley voted against the legislation.

“As an economic decision, it’s not a good investment,” Kenley told his colleagues. “To save an industry we have a problem with that we can’t save, I don’t think we’re making a good decision here. I think the longer we look at the deal, the less we’ll like it.”

Lawmakers in favor of the bill argued for the benefits to horsemen in the state as well as the financial stability it would offer the racing industry. They also pointed to tax revenue slot machines would generate. In its current form, the bill would require each track to pay a 2% tax, up to $5 million annually, which would be directed to Madison and Shelby counties where the tracks are located.

“This bill is the triple crown of opportunity for us,” Democratic Sen. Tim Lanane said. “Not only is it important for our community, but for the horse racing industry and the state of Indiana in general.”
Republican Sen. Robert Jackman, who co-sponsored the bill with Lanane once it reached the Senate, spoke about the national trend of racinos. “As far as I’m concerned, this bill is about the horsemen,” Jackman said. “Twenty-four states offer racing, (and) 13 have adopted alternative gaming. It’s about the survival of an industry.”
The House can elect to adopt the changes in the bill and send it on to Gov. Mitch Daniels. If representatives elect to reject the changes, the bill will move to a conference committee, where members of both chambers would work to develop a compromise on the bill. In recent years, Daniels has said he is against an expansion of gambling in the state.