Indiana House Committee Approves Slots at Racetracks

Up to 5,000 slot machines could draw crowds to Indiana's struggling horse racing tracks -- and bring in millions for the state -- under a proposal advanced by a House committee Wednesday.

The bill would allow each of Indiana's two horse tracks to pay the state $75 million for a license to have up to 2,500 slot machines. A 32% wagering tax on the first $150 million the machines bring in and a 37.5 percent tax on any money over that would go to the state and the two counties where the tracks are located.

The tracks and horse racing industry, starting in 2009, would give up the $27 million a year in subsidies they currently share from riverboat gambling revenue. That money would instead go to help provide health insurance to uninsured Indiana residents meeting certain poverty guidelines.

Supporters said slot machines would breathe life into the race tracks at Anderson and Shelbyville, which have been struggling, while providing the state with much-needed revenue.

"We are at a financial crossroads," said Rick Moore, president of Hoosier Park in Anderson. "We need help. We need slot machines at Indiana's two race tracks."

Estimates vary on how much the machines could garner, but one researcher predicted 2,500 slots at each track would bring in $533 million a year. The state would take in about $185 million a year in taxes under that estimate by Will E. Cummings of Massachusetts-based Cummings Associates.

Belterra casino, near the Ohio River town of Vevay, opposes the bill, fearing some of its customers would go to race tracks for slot machines instead of coming there.

The House Public Policy Committee approved the proposal on a 9-3 vote Wednesday.