By Lesley Weidenbener
Lesley Weidenbener, executive editor, TheStatehouseFile.com
INDIANAPOLIS – Republican Gov. Mike Pence has some strong feelings about gambling legislation that’s been passed by the House and is now headed to the Senate.
I mean, I think he does.
He’s not actually willing to tell me. Or you. Or apparently anyone who’s not a legislator.
We’ll find out, Pence said, if and when a bill reaches his desk and he either signs it, vetoes it, or lets it become law without his signature. In the mean time, Pence will apparently only participate in the conversation about gambling behind closed doors.
That’s too bad because the debate matters. Gambling tax receipts were once Indiana’s third highest source of revenue for the state budget, which pays for schools, roads and other services. But increased competition from Ohio and Illinois has eaten into Indiana casino business and state tax revenue, leaving the industry reeling.
Now, lawmakers are looking for ways to stabilize the existing industry and increase its ability to compete with out-of-state casinos – all while trying to keep one Indiana operation from poaching too many customers from another. It’s an incredibly tough balance.
It would be nice to know where the governor stands.
The bill passed by the House would allow riverboats to rebuild their casinos on land and allow live dealers at horse-track based casinos where “table games” are now played on electronic machines. The bill also provides tax breaks for casino investments in construction and marketing.
Apparently Pence opposes the live dealer provision of the bill because he considers it an expansion of gambling. So says House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who doesn’t much like the provision either.
Bosma says Pence has made his opposition clear – to lawmakers, that is. Pence wouldn’t confirm that when talking to reporters.
So why won’t Pence just come out with it? Maybe he’s afraid he’ll look weak if he expresses his views and lawmakers don’t listen. That’s certainly a risk. After all, the Republican-controlled House passed the measure with 75 votes, despite the governor’s concerns.
Maybe he’s afraid to stake out a position in case he wants to change his mind later. Or maybe it’s something else.
His refusal to take a public stand is part of a trend. If an issue isn’t on the governor’s agenda, he generally refuses to say what he thinks about the legislation.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said that complicates law making.
Pence “needs to decide if he’s going to be involved or not be involved,” Pelath said. “And if he is going to be involved he ought to be getting involved to help and not keep something from reaching his desk that he has some personal objections to.”
But don’t look for Pelath to influence what Pence will or won’t talk about – and it looks like gambling will remain one of those things he won’t discuss.
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.