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Communities could be big loser in bill to help casinos

Updated: February 19, 2013 9:47AM



While legislation moves through the General Assembly to give casinos in Indiana a competitive edge, communities that depend on gambling revenue from casinos may lose out.

An amendment to Senate Bill 528 would remove a mandate providing casino revenues to local government.

Offered by State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, the amendment changed language that would guarantee a specific amount to individual communities.

“The communities with riverboats would get a certain amount from the admission tax and it would never be reduced,” Kenley said. “But since then the sales volumes at all the riverboats except one have fallen. So last year the state had to write a check for $40 million to pay them for the fact that the revenues had fallen.”

For Lake County, that could result in a loss of $9.5 million.

The lower rates consist of both a removal of a $40 million revenue guarantee, and changes in the tax structure based on supplemental wagers instead of admissions.

The revenue guarantee came from legislation in 2002 that locked in funds at no less than that year’s levels, but capped the maximum allowed at $40 million to the state.

With the proposed changes, Gary would lose $5.1 million from Majestic Star by 2015, and East Chicago $4 million from Ameristar. Hammond would only see a loss of about $400,000 from Horseshoe.

In LaPorte County, Michigan City could face a loss of $2.2 million in revenue from Blue Chip Casino.

Kenley said that because the bill is offering incentives to help the casinos, such as free-play tax breaks and lower tax burdens, the communities should also chip in to help.

“We’re asking the locals to share in the concessions to the riverboats,” he said, “We just don’t want to take it out of the state’s hide only.”

Kenley added that the change hits Gary and Ohio County the hardest.

State Sen. Earline Rogers feels that the funds should remain for the communities.

“Why do we always has to be the one to lose?” Rogers said, “This was always an effort driven by the communities where the casinos were docked.”

Kenley responded: “So then we could not pass a bill, and there would be no incentives and it would be up to the locals to make the boats work better.”

The bill returns to the Senate floor for a vote, but could face a difficult future.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said he doesn’t believe now is the time for drastic changes to gambling in the state.



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