Pence lets casino bill become law; vetoes online horse wagering bill

By Lesley Weidenbener
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Riverboats could rebuild on land and horse-track casinos could get live dealers in five years under a bill Gov. Mike Pence will allow to become law without his signature.

But the Republican governor vetoed legislation that would have legalized betting on horse racing from gamblers’ computers and phones.

Pence said both decisions are in line with his opposition to an expansion of gambling.

“I recognize that gaming has become an important part of the economy of many communities in our state and is an important part of our state budget,” Pence said in a statement issued Friday.

“From early in the legislative process, I made it clear that I would not stand in the way of reforms that would allow these businesses to remain competitive with surrounding states so long as it did not constitute an expansion of gaming in Indiana,” he said.

House Bill 1540 allows the state’s 10 existing riverboat casinos to rebuild their operations on land within their existing resort footprints. That means they can’t move to more lucrative locations in other counties or along highways. Instead, the land-based casinos could be located next to existing hotels and pavilions.

The bill also creates a pathway for racinos in Anderson and Shelbyville to obtain live dealers, which could – in five years – replace electronic black jack, poker, roulette and other table games. Pence had privately threatened to veto any bill that included the live dealers – until lawmakers agreed to postpone that provision until after he left office, even if he’s elected to a second term.

The changes are meant to help Indiana’s casino industry adjust to increasing competition from gambling operations in Ohio and Illinois.

The bill’s author, Rep. Tom Dermody, D-LaPorte, called the legislation a “jobs bill.”

“I authored this legislation with Northwest Indiana in mind, as now the Majestic Star Casino in Gary will be able to move inland and free up the Buffington Harbor for future economic development opportunities,” Dermody said.

The law also outlines procedures for legislative ratification of a tribal gaming compact that could be negotiated between the governor and the Pokagaon Band of the Potawatomi Indians, who are seeking to build a casino in Northern Indiana.

Federal law gives states limited leverage in such negotiations and little or no ability to tax or regulate casinos on Native American land. Still, the new law sets up the structure that allows the state to take on the negotiations.

However, Pence couldn’t stomach House Bill 1270, which would have authorized so-called advanced deposit wagering, also known as account wagering, on horse racing. Lawmakers could override his veto during a one-day technical corrections day in June or act on it in 2016.

The bill’s author, Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, had said thousands of Hoosiers are already using the web to gamble illegally on horse racing through third-party wagering companies. The problem, he said, is that the tracks in Indiana don’t get a cut of the action, even though it drains business from their operations.

HB 1270 would have not only legalized the bets but required the third-party companies to be licensed by the state and pay fees to Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs.

But said the proposal was “contrary to my long-time position against online gaming.”

“Advance Deposit Wagering, not currently permitted in Indiana, would also violate my position on expanding gaming here in Indiana,” he said.

Pence also signed SB 327, which applies to charity gaming at schools, churches, veterans organizations and police and fire departments, as well as SB 252, which changes the way breed development funds can be used for horse racing.

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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