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The Journal Gazette

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Thursday, March 21, 2019 1:00 am

Lawmakers dealt gambling pitch

Bill includes tables at racetracks, sports betting

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The House got its first crack at a wide-ranging gambling bill Wednesday that would shift Indiana's casino industry and legalize a new avenue of gambling.

The Public Policy Committee heard more than three hours of testimony from dozens of Hoosier officials and residents. Possible amendments and a vote could come next week.

Senate Bill 552 has several moving parts – the biggest of which would allow the movement of two existing Gary casino licenses. The first would stay in Lake County but move inland. The other would move to Terre Haute.

The state's two racinos – horse tracks with casinos – would be allowed to have live table dealers this year rather than waiting until 2021. And all casinos would be allowed to give more free play to customers.

The measure also would legalize sports betting following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year giving states that authority.

Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, said Hoosiers spend $300 million on illegal sports bets already and the bill provides a safe, legal framework through existing casino licenses. Betting on high school would be prohibited, and bets could be placed using a mobile app.

One issue that arose during Wednesday's hearing was a section in the bill requiring that casinos use official data from the professional leagues for in-game bets. These bets are different from picking a winner or going against the spread. They wager on the next field goal or walk, for instance.

Dan Emerson, chief legal officer for the Indianapolis Colts, said the data should come from the leagues to maintain the integrity of the system. He said that sometimes observers can come to different conclusions – such as how many yards a running back gained or whether a baseball player commits an error.

He also spoke on behalf of the NFL and the NCAA.

But Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, noted Nevada – which has had sports gambling for decades – doesn't require official league data and no other state has done that.

Auburn Rep. Ben Smaltz asked if the leagues would receive payment for the data. Emerson said that is likely though he didn't know how much.

It's still unclear what tax rate would be placed on casinos for sports betting, though it could be between 6 percent and 10 percent – much lower than the rate they pay on other gambling. 

The plan to allow a casino to open in Terre Haute was also discussed during the meeting. Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, said Terre Haute is a perfect location because of its distance from existing casinos and the fact it can draw customers from Illinois.

But Bloomington Rep. Peggy Mayfield said Fort Wayne also fits those same parameters and asked why the city is not in the discussion.

Messmer said locals from Vigo County have been pushing for several years and no one from Fort Wayne or Allen County has spoken in favor of such a move.