Gaming boss: State must address declining gambling revenue
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent April 8, 2013 7:38PM
Indiana Gaming Executive Director Ernest Yelton. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 10, 2013 6:07AM
GARY — The Indiana Legislature and the state’s casinos have yet to figure out a way to stem dwindling revenue as the gambling industry evolves, Indiana Gaming Commission Executive Director Ernest Yelton said Monday.
A provision that would’ve replaced the casino admissions tax with a supplemental wagering tax of 3.45 percent has been stripped out of Senate Bill 528 and is unlikely to make it back into the legislation this year, Yelton told the Gary Chamber of Commerce during its monthly luncheon.
It’s estimated that the change would’ve cost Gary $3.9 million, East Chicago $3 million and Lake County $6.2 million during its first year.
Nevertheless, the state has to accept that fierce competition, along with saturation of the gambling market, has reduced gambling income, and someone needs to get out in front of it, Yelton said.
“(Former Gov.) Mitch Daniels wasn’t a gamer, and Gov. Mike Pence isn’t, so they relied on the status quo,” he said after his keynote talk. “But if you do nothing in an evolving industry, you regress.”
Mobile gambling, in which gamblers can come into the casino and play games on a tablet, exchanging their money for credits, has been contested by people in Indianapolis as an “expansion” of the state’s gambling industry, Yelton said, but he doesn’t see it as such.
“It’s just a platform,” he said, adding that if he were a gambler, he would rather sit down at a table while his children likely would prefer mobile gaming.
Yelton said the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved earlier Monday a provision that will allow a tax break on up to $3 million of free-play money for casinos for 2013 and up to $5 million for 2014 to “see what happens.”
He also said land-based casinos will happen eventually but perhaps not this legislative session.
And Yelton lauded as “wonderful” the relationship between Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and the Majestic Star Casinos, saying that “for the first time, there’s a trust there.”
For fiscal year 2012, Indiana saw a total of $27 billion in gross profit from gambling, $754 million from the wagering tax and $75 million from the admissions tax — making the state third in both gross profit and gross tax revenue in the country, Yelton said.
Gambling revenue makes up 6 percent of the state’s budget, and the local tax benefit to the state and municipalities totals $1 billion.