Indiana Gaming Expansion Lingers at Special Session

by James Platz

Dockside gaming and pull-tab legislation were not passed into law during the Indiana General Assembly's regular session earlier this year, but both measures have made their way into a new budget bill during the special session now under way.

The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, passed budget legislation that calls for pull-tabs, or video lottery terminals, at pari-mutuel tracks and Marion County off-track betting facilities. In an effort to stabilize the state's coffers--Indiana is projected to go bankrupt by mid-2003--legislators are looking for new sources of revenue without imposing significant tax increases.

The bill was passed out of the Ways and Means Committee after three of 10 Republicans joined all 16 Democrats to vote in favor of the legislation. The full House reconvened June 3, and its top priority will be to craft legislation that can be sent to the full Senate. While Republicans and Democrats were unable to find common ground during the regular session, the state continues to under-perform, which adds extra pressure for a resolution.

Gov. Frank O'Bannon has repeatedly stated he would veto a bill that included pull-tab provisions. He has yet to address pull-tabs as they relate to the bill, and instead has shifted his focus to the task at hand during the special session.

"A very important step has been taken. This continues to move in a direction to solve the big challenges we have here," O'Bannon told the Indianapolis Star. "It's going to take a lot of effort to continue to move this bill."

The House bill contains much of the same gaming language as a Senate bill that died in conference committee when the General Assembly adjourned. Indiana riverboats would be able to suspend scheduled cruises under the bill, and French Lick would be allowed to have a riverboat casino. Hoosier Park and Indianapolis Downs, which is currently under construction, could add up to 700 pull-tab machines. Two Marion County OTBs would also be allowed to add 700 pull-tab machines under the proposal.

The full House can begin to make amendments to the bill June 5, and a final vote could come June 6. If the House passes the legislation, it will move to the full Senate, which will convene June 11. The special session, by law, expires June 22.