Indiana Gambling Bill Progresses in Legislature

by James Platz
Dockside gambling on Indiana riverboat casinos and electronic pull-tabs at Hoosier Park and the proposed Indianapolis Downs are one step closer to reality after a close vote in the Indiana Senate Jan. 31.

House Bill 333, which would eliminate set boarding times on the state's riverboats, passed 27-23. The measure also calls for the transfer of the state's 11th riverboat license to economically depressed Orange County. It is the first time a dockside gambling proposal has made it through the Senate.

Illinois riverboats have no boarding restrictions. Sen. Greg Server, sponsor of the proposal, cites Illinois policy as a reason Indiana is losing customers. According to the Legislative Services Agency, dockside gambling could result in an additional $100 million more in wagering and admission taxes to the state.

On Jan. 28, the Indiana Senate amended Senate Bill 333 to allow a casino in French Lick. The state's 11th license was originally awarded to Patoka Lake. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the lake, has refused to permit a riverboat operate. The amendment calls for a gambling boat located on a man-made lake between the French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs hotels. The proposal passed 26-19.

Hoosier Park and Indianapolis Downs, which is scheduled to open in Shelbyville later this year, would each be allowed to set up 700 pull-tab machines, similar to video lottery terminals, under Senate Bill 333. The bill's language does not create any new taxes on the pull-tab revenue.

The Indiana Constitution states that a new tax must originate in the House, where the bill now heads, and where similar legislation passed last year. Senate finance chairman Larry Borst urged lawmakers to defeat the bill. He stressed that tax provisions on pull-tabs may never be added and thus leave all profits to racetrack operators.