INDIANAPOLIS – An always-evolving gambling bill at the Indiana Statehouse could undergo more changes after a conference committee met Wednesday and then recessed to come up with a deal behind closed doors.
Lawmakers are still trying to decide whether to authorize live dealers at the state’s two horse track casinos – and if they do, how to mitigate the impact on other gambling operations. It’s a sticky question because Gov. Mike Pence has said he opposes a gambling expansion and key lawmakers say his definition includes live dealers.
Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, said lawmakers have been trying since the summer to find language that will benefit all of Indiana’s casinos.
“Hopefully we can bring something that will help the industry compete with the surrounding states,” Dermody said.
Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, and Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said they favored the language in the original House version of the bill that allowed racinos to have live dealers at 24 table games immediately – and let them petition for more after five years.
The Senate version of the bill bans live dealers for five more years to give other gambling operations the opportunity to adjust to the future change. But then the number of games wouldn’t be capped.
The live dealers provision in the bill is among the most controversial issues left for lawmakers to settle. Casino industry officials disagree about the impact, saying it would benefit some operations while taking advantages away from others.
“The House sent a very strong message when we sent this bill out 76-22, that we want to address the industry as a whole,” Austin said. “We do not want to pick winners and losers.”
Austin said lawmakers want to put the casinos in the “best competitive situation” in the future. The bill is meant to help the gambling industry deal with growing competition in Ohio and Illinois, as well as a possible Native American casino in northern Indiana.
But other casino operators say that adding live dealers at the race track casinos will keep Central Indiana customers from driving to their operations in more distant places.
The House and Senate versions of the bill both allow riverboat casinos to rebuild on land. However, lawmakers are still discussing whether to provide a tax credit for casino investments and extend a marketing tax break.
“There’s still some tweaks that need to be done,” Austin said.
Alec Gray is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.