By Erica Irish
INDIANAPOLIS — Stakeholders across numerous industries and professions, from city mayors, business leaders and economic development chambers, flocked to the Statehouse Wednesday to discuss a measure designed to transform Indiana’s gambling industry.
Senate Bill 552, authored by Sens. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, and Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, would authorize sports wagering on riverboats, racing casinos and certain satellite facilities. The bill, heard in the Senate Public Policy Committee, was approved in a 10-0 vote.
Debate surrounds just how much revenue the state can earn through sports betting legalization. According to a fiscal analysis of SB 552, an estimated $22.6 million could be earned from the practice by fiscal year 2021.
Former state Sen. Earline Rogers testified before the Senate Public Policy urging lawmakers to approve new gaming laws. Photo by Erica Irish, TheStatehouseFile.com
Should SB 552 become law, it would also open the door for two major casino projects. It would allow the city of Terre Haute to build its first-ever casino and the city of Gary to move an existing casino farther inland.
Leaders from each city told the committee these projects are crucial to economic success and job growth.
Communities in northwest Indiana were some of the first to use the gaming industry for economic development. Former Sen. Earline Rogers of Gary, who appeared at the hearing alongside leaders in her home city, reminded lawmakers that risks are necessary for growth.
Rogers was instrumental to introducing legislation 25 years ago that created the first opportunities for land-based casinos in Indiana.
But not all leaders in the region are happy with the casino proposal for Gary.
Anthony Copeland, mayor of East Chicago, begged lawmakers to let the original gaming model run its course. He came before the committee after spending three days with legislators.
Copeland showed emotion when talking about past sacrifices his city made to promote gaming, since an advancement in Gary’s gaming industry would likely pull revenue and jobs away from similar programs in East Chicago.
Anthony Copeland, mayor of East Chicago, testifies before the Senate Public Policy committee Wednesday. Photo by Erica Irish, TheStatehouseFile.com.
Karen Freeman-Wilson, in her eighth year as mayor of Gary, followed up on criticisms from the other cities, saying she is hopeful Gary can reach an agreement that is beneficial for all communities.
“We’re simply saying to you that this is not a zero-sum game,” Freeman-Wilson said. “We have never made a proposal to benefit Gary to the detriment of any other community. And we’re certainly not here suggesting that today.”
SB 552 will advance to the Senate Appropriations Committee for additional review.
Committee Chair Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, called the vote a historic moment for Indiana’s gambling industry.
“Twenty-five years after enacting the riverboat gaming act, as our legislator stated, this article is intended to benefit the people of Indiana by promoting tourism and economic development,” he said.
Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.