Indiana House OKs Expanded-Gaming Legislation

by James Platz

The Indiana House passed legislation Feb. 26 that allows for dockside gaming at riverboat casinos, and pull-tab machines in the state. Lawmakers approved the Senate bill by a 55-43 margin.

The bill will now move to a conference committee, where members of the House and Senate will work out a compromise on the versions that were ratified in each chamber.

On Feb. 25, the bill underwent a number of changes during a two-hour discussion. Hoosier Park and its Indianapolis Trackside satellite wagering facility, and Indianapolis Downs, which is under construction in Shelby County, could each add up to 750 pull-tab machines, or video lottery terminals. Indianapolis Downs could install 750 machines in a satellite facility in Marion County as well. Pull-tabs must first pass county referendums.

Another amendment calls for the $26-million annual subsidy currently received by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission from riverboat casino admission taxes to be phased out over a three-year period. The commission would instead receive the first $26 million in taxes raised by pull-tab machines, derived from a 30% tax. Hoosier Park president and general manager Rick Moore said one pull-tab machine could generate as much as $240 profit daily.

Pull-tabs are not the only expansion of gaming, as the state's riverboats would no longer have to make regularly scheduled cruises under the legislation. The bill also transfers Indiana's 11th riverboat license to Orange County. Finally, the bill would allow a casino barge in Michigan City if the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians opens a competing land-based casino in southwestern Michigan.

While the news was good for the horse racing industry, Moore acknowledged the process is far from over.

"It's still a work in progress," Moore said. "The process is very fluid. There are going to be so many changes, I wouldn't want to speculate on the end result."

Conference committee members have two weeks to work out differences in the bill, and both chambers must approve the proposal again before it can be sent to Governor Frank O'Bannon. The deadline to adjourn is March 14.