The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, February 26, 2019 3:50 pm

Indiana Senate approves gambling bill

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers could legally bet on the Colts, Pacers and other sporting events under an extensive gambling bill approved 38-11 by the Senate today that also reshuffles the casino deck.

"This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset the casino industry in Indiana," said Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper.

He said the bill will help existing operators be more competitive and maximize revenues for the state - all within the existing licenses and caps on gaming positions.

"I don't see this as an expansion of gaming," said Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary. "I see this as an opportunity to leverage our existing assets."

Area lawmakers split on the bill. Sens. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, and Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, voted no. Those in support were Sens. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange; Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne; Justin Busch, R-Fort Wayne; Andy Zay, R-Huntington.

No one spoke against it.

Senate Bill 552 is wide-ranging – starting with legalizing sports gambling in the state. The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to authorize sports wagering last year and several states have moved forward.

The legislation allows the state's casinos, horse tracks with slots machines and off-track betting parlors to offer sports gambling. Once a person has visited a site in person to sign up they can then place subsequent bets online.

The bill bans betting on high school and other amateur youth sporting events but you could bet on college games. The measure also allows in-play betting, which is placing a wager after a game has started - such as whether a kicker will make the next field goal. For in-play betting, a casino must use official data from the leagues running the events.

Those wanting to offer sports wagering would pay an initial licensing fee of $100,000. Revenue will eventually be taxed but it couldn't be placed in the bill because revenue-raising measures must originate in the House.

A study earlier this summer suggested a 9.25 percent rate and said the state would see between $10 million and $38 million in taxes annually. Supporters, though, are pushing for a lower rate.

Other gambling highlights in the bill allow live dealers at the two racinos; authorize the movement of one casino license to Terre Haute; allow companies to own more than two casino licenses and increase the amount of "free play" a casino can offer to patrons.

Senate Bill 552 now moves to the House, where House Speaker Brian Bosma said Tuesday it represents a major expansion of gaming in the state.

He said some members of his caucus oppose all gaming bills while others with gambling already in their communities might vote against it because the movement of other facilities could hurt existing casinos. For instance, a new casino in Terre Haute could negatively impact wagering in French Lick and Evansville. 

Bosma noted sports wagering hasn't garnered much discussion because "it's going on in our state every day anyway" via illegal offshore online sites.

He likened it to when state cracked down on illegal cherry master games in bars and truck stops to justify allowing slot machines at the two horse racing tracks.

Overall, Bosma said he will encourage his caucus not to consider the fiscal impact on state revenue but instead "make the best decision on policy."

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