Gaming bill passes, but with less local support
By Matt Mikus email@example.com February 25, 2013 8:24PM
Updated: February 26, 2013 9:35AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Senate Bill 528, known as the Gaming Bill by lawmakers, passed with a vote of 32 to 18 Monday, although it lost support from local senators with casinos in their backyard.
The bill would relieve up to $235 million in state taxes from casinos and reorganize taxing structures by replacing the admission tax of $3 with a 2.5 percent supplemental wagering tax.
Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, authored the bill in the hopes that it would allow casinos in Indiana to face future competition from casinos in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and potentially Kentucky.
“We need to do something to help our casinos compete,” Boots said, “and maintain the revenues that we can live on.”
The bill would allow casinos a $2 million dollar break for free-play promotional revenue, half used within the state and half outside the state borders. It also allows riverboat casinos to move onto land currently owned by the casino.
But because the bill would remove local funding guarantee of $40 million to boat casino communities, longtime supporters of casinos like Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, and Sen. Johnny Nugent, R-Lawrenceburg, voted against the bill.
Rogers said when the boats were first allowed in the state, communities were allowed to keep a small portion of the admission tax, but the casinos were so successful, that soon after the states decided to cap the amount of money they could capture.
As part of the deal, the casino communities agreed to set a minimum that the communities would always receive, totaling about $40 million.
“They say that there’s $40 million they have to give back to the communities, coming out of our general fund. I would phrase it differently than that,” Rogers said. “These boats give over 520 million a year, that the states would not have if the local communities did not fight for these riverboats.”
Nugent reminded the Senate that the state had tried to take the funds away from the communities before, in 2004 and in 2005.
“The state entered into a contract agreement,” he said. “A deal was a deal, and the state should honor it’s word.”
Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, also voted against the bill. He stressed that taking the funds away from the communities who supported the casinos would be unfair.
Senators on both sides urged to pass the bill, saying it will continue to be tweaked through the legislative process. Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said this is the one chance the General Assembly has to fend off future threats to the gaming industry in the state.
“We all know the bill will change” Lanane said. “But this is the only horse in town. I’m not saying the concerns expressed are not valid. They are. But I’m saying if we kill this bill now, that’s it. Can we afford to lose a year to the competition?”
Sen. Lean Leising, R-Oldenburg, stressed the same.
“We’ve got to keep this bill moving,” she said.
The bill will head to the House, sponsored by Republican Reps. Bill Davis, Tim Brown and Sean Eberhart and Democrat Rep. Terri Austin.