Indiana Gaming, Racing Bill Heads to Full Senate

by James Platz

With the help of three Republicans who crossed the isle June 7, hopes for dockside gaming and pull-tab legislation continue to live as the full House passed House Bill 1001 by a 51-47 margin. The legislation now moves to the full Senate, which has a Republican majority.

House Bill 1001 calls for pull-tab machines, or video lottery terminals, at Hoosier Park and Indianapolis Downs, as well as Marion County off-track wagering facilities. Provisions also allow Indiana riverboats to remain dockside and still offer gaming.

Combined with a number of tax increases, the bill passed by the House would raise $3 billion in new taxes over the next three years and allow the state to offset losses resulting from the underperforming economy. Republicans believe the dependence on gambling taxes and new forms of gaming would be too great.

"This is primarily a gambling bill. Twenty-six of 77 lines in the synopsis of this bill have something to do with gambling," said Rep. Eric Turner. "What message will we send to Hoosiers when we turn to gambling every time we need money?"

One of the primary beneficiaries of pull-tab legislation is Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Hoosier Park. Pull-tabs at the Anderson facility could mean significant revenue for a track that has experienced on-track attendance and handle declines each year since it opened in 1994.

"We are pleased the pull-tabs were included," Hoosier Park president and general manager Rick Moore said of the current legislation. "I just don't know what to expect. It's still moving, and who knows what will happen."

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to consider the measure June 11-12, and the full Senate could vote on the bill June 18. The special session will end June 22, but Gov Frank O'Bannon has already stated that if lawmakers do not send him a budget bill by the session's adjournment, he will call them back for yet another session.