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In Indiana, a ‘casino’ by any other name pondered

SHELBYVILLE — In many ways, the differences between playing electronic roulette at the racetrack and playing the wheel at a riverboat casino are akin to reading this column on an iPad or in the paper.

There are no chips to lay down on felt tables at the Indiana Grand Casino’s electronic roulette tables, but bet $10 on red on the touchscreen and you’ll lose it if the mechanized wheel a few feet away catches the ball on black. Read this on an iPad and there’s no crinkle of the paper or smell of ink, but the content is the same.

The differences between the electronic and standard table games are being portrayed to Indiana state lawmakers this year as one of life and death, with proponents of a bill that would allow racetrack table games saying they would add jobs while not substantially changing what the racetracks already offer.

“All we’re doing is taking that table, taking it off the electronic format and putting on a different table top, and putting a live person behind it,” said Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, one of the lawmakers behind the legislation.

Eberhart calls the gambling bill the biggest “jobs” measure lawmakers can pass this session, based on the assessment Indiana Grand would hire roughly 600 new workers to man new table games. And he dismisses critics who call it an expansion of gaming.

“We’re not adding any additional games, we’re just changing the format, and I just think it’s disingenuous for people to call it an expansion of gaming,” he said.

Centaur Inc., the new owner of Indiana Grand and longtime owner of the Hoosier Park slots outfit, has been lobbying hard for the change, as pressure mounts from new casinos being built near Indiana’s borders.

Opponents say allowing racetrack table games would amount to a major expansion of gaming in the state. The Senate passed a larger bill that would allow table games, but the House Public Policy Committee stripped the provision out, agreeing that it would expand gaming. The legislation appears stalled with a few weeks left in the session.

The racetracks are also uniquely positioned to tap into vestal central Indiana, a market the state’s riverboat operators have never fully broached.

The number of table games would be determined by the Indiana Gaming Commission, which approved electronic table games independent of the General Assembly a few years ago.

Lawmakers may not have approved the electronic roulette tables and video poker rooms at the racetracks that the Gaming Commission authorized a few years ago, but they’re being asked to now. The difference between the touchscreen and the felt might not seem like much, but more than a few high rollers think it’s worth something.



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