Bill Allowing 'Pull-Tabs' at Hoosier Park Advances

Legislation that would permit Indiana's riverboat casinos to remain dockside and allow Hoosier Park to install "pull-tabs"-a type of video lottery terminal-passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday, but the bill figures to hit roadblocks on the Senate side.

Dockside gaming is expected to boost casino revenue and in turn provide the state with more than $200 million. The pull-tab machines would be located at Hoosier Park in Anderson, and at off-track betting locations in Indianapolis and French Lick. Hoosier Park, whose majority owner is Churchill Downs, would be required to open its fourth OTB parlor in French Lick, a southwest Indiana resort town.

Revenue from the pull-tab machines would go to the racetrack permit-holder. Horsemen and breeders in the Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse industries would continue to derive their subsidy from the 65-cents-per-head riverboat casino admission tax.

That subsidy is expected to rise given the bill's provision for an increase of a dollar or two to the $3 boat admission fee. But Hoosier Park is expected to derive much more revenue from the pull-tab machines similar to the ones located in California's Indian casinos. The machines are linked and pay out from a common pool similar to the pari-mutuel system of wagering.

It wasn't known if any future permit-holder would benefit from the bill should it become law. Indiana developer Paul Estridge Sr. has plans to build another racetrack west of Indianapolis.

Sen. Larry Borst told the Indianapolis Star that the bill will "hit a wall" in the Senate. Borst, who chairs the Senate finance committee, doesn't look favorably upon installation of pull-tab machines at Hoosier Park.

The House bill, which passed by a 57-43 vote, could be assigned to committee in March, though the process could extend well into the summer. Gov. Frank O'Bannon told the Star that he, too, is opposed to an expansion of gambling, and therefore would look at the measure "very critically."