by James Platz
Indiana House and Senate committees passed bills Jan. 22 that pose substantial changes to the riverboat and horse racing industries in the state.
Following nearly three hours of testimony, the Senate Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 333 by a slim 6-5 margin. The bill would allow riverboats the option to forgo cruising if they choose, and would permit 700 electronic "pull-tab terminals" at both Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indianapolis Downs once the Shelbyville track is operational. Removed from the bill was the ability for satellite wagering facilities to have pull tabs, a type of video lottery terminal.
Representatives from Hoosier Park, Indianapolis Downs, and Centaur Racing were on hand to testify in support of the legislation. Eight of the state's 10 casinos also support the bill.
According to the Legislative Services Agency, dockside gambling could bring in an estimated $83.3 million in revenue from wagering taxes alone. Senate Bill 333 will now go to the full Senate, and its future could be known in the next two weeks.
"The subsidy has been under attack every year," Centaur president Jeff Smith said. "That is a destabilizing influence on the industry. Pull-tabs will provide the stability the industry needs and allow for growth."
Hoosier Park President Rick Moore also reiterated the need for stability in the industry.
"We are asking for the same type of stability that has been put in place in other states," he said. "Other states are looking at the same type of legislation."
The House Ways and Means Committee passed a measure that would balance the budget through vehicles including an increase in riverboat admission taxes, but not without major changes. House Bill 1004 was lumped together with House Bill 1003, which called for tax restructuring elements including a court-ordered reassessment of property.
Under the revised House Bill 1004, the riverboat casino admissions tax would be raised from three to four dollars, one dollar less than originally proposed. In turn, it increases the wagering tax imposed upon casino operators. The bill is scheduled to go before the full House Jan. 24.