Bill for Slots at Indiana Racetracks Dealt Setback

By James Platz
Indiana's horse racing industry suffered a significant setback Monday as the House Public Policy and Veterans Affairs Committee defeated a bill calling for slot machines at both Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs. House Bill 1569, which proposed 2,500 machines at each pari-mutuel racetrack, was rejected by a 7-4 margin.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Luke Messer (R-Shelbyville), originally served as a catalyst for the state's faltering racing industry as well as a vehicle to fund the lion's share of a $500 million retractable-roof stadium for the Indianapolis Colts. Last week an amendment was introduced that stripped all but $5 million to $6 million annually for the new stadium. Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson had said from the beginning that $46 million a year was required to build a stadium and keep the Colts from bolting for greener pastures.

Last week, Rep. Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale) rolled out a proposal that would utilize a combination of tax increases to generate enough revenue to meet Peterson's $46 million threshold without expanding gaming in Indiana. Although Messer's legislation was turned away, and slots at Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs may seem out of the realm of possibility, several months remain until the end of the session, and anything is possible.

"There will be a lot of people trying to put this back together," said Espich, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Currently, the racing industry receives a $27-million subsidy derived from riverboat admission tax revenue. Stakeholders in the industry have worked for several years in an attempt to gain pull-tabs at both tracks, which they say would provide a stable source of funding.