Expanded Gaming Vote Nears in Indiana

by James Platz

The future of video gaming at racetracks and dockside gaming at riverboat casinos in Indiana could be decided as early as Monday.

Senate Bill 333, which would eliminate boarding times on the state's 10 riverboat casinos and allow for pull-tab machines, or video lottery terminals, at Hoosier Park, the proposed Indianapolis Downs, and Marion County satellite wagering facilities is scheduled to be considered by the full House Monday. The House has established Feb. 26 as the deadline for bills to be approved.

Passed by the Senate in late January, the bill was augmented Feb. 21 in the House Ways and Means Committee and approved 14-12. The revised bill calls for up to 750 pull-tab machines at Hoosier Park and its Indianapolis Trackside satellite location. Indianapolis Downs, currently under construction in Shelby County, would also have the ability to add pull-tabs.

The track's operators would have the same luxury if they developed a Marion County satellite facility. A wagering tax of 30% would be levied on the machines, and facilities with pull-tabs would be subject to an admission tax of $2 per visitor.

Senate Bill 333 also calls for a change in the taxes assessed to riverboats. Riverboat casino admissions taxes would increase from $3 to $4 per person. Operators would have the option of paying taxes based on periodic head counts, or a flat fee of $7 for passengers who stay all day.

The wagering tax would also change from 20% on adjusted gross receipts to a graduated tax. The measure also allows Michigan City's Blue Chip Casino to construct a barge-based facility in order to compete with a similar facility currently in development by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians in Michigan.

Gov. Frank O'Bannon has consistently opposed the expansion of gambling in the state. But with the government having fallen on hard times, and predicted to go broke by mid-2003, he has said he would look at a measure that calls for flexible boarding on Indiana riverboats. O'Bannon has also voiced his disfavor for pull-tab machines, and has said he would have good reason to veto a bill containing such language.