Gaming Bill Will Allow Mobile Sports Betting, Private Casino Meetings With Governors
By Emily Ketterer
INDIANAPOLIS —Hoosiers may soon be able to place sports bets anywhere in the state, but they won’t know if casino bosses are meeting privately with public officials.
Previously filed as Senate Bill 552, the gaming expansion legislation was moved to House Bill 1015. These changes had to be made because all revenue-generating bills have to come through the House. The gaming expansion is expected to bring around $75 million into the state.
Although the language was moved to another bill, the concept is still the same. The legislation would allow two Gary casinos to merge and move inland and give Terre Haute a license to build a new casino––adding to Indiana’s 11 casinos and two racinos. The bill would also legalize sports betting, which passed through both chambers with little to no debate from lawmakers or the public.
But changes were still made, including removing the provision to prevent casino owners from meeting in private with the governor. That language had been amended into the bill on the House floor by Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, in reaction to The Indianapolis Star story about Gov. Eric Holcomb taking a paid-for private plane ride last year with the owner of Spectacle Entertainment, the company operating the two Gary casinos.
“Apparently they want to keep everything secret,” Bauer said. “It amazes me they’re going about recklessly on this thing.”
A few other changes were made, including adding mobile sports betting on computers or phones back into the bill. The provision was in the Senate version but was removed by Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, when the bill went to the House Public Policy Committee. Smaltz argued that allowing mobile sports betting could lead to every community having gambling. And he questioned how lawmakers could explain why people can bet digitally on sports, but not legally play other casino games like black-jack.
Betting on e-sports or youth sports would be illegal, and all sports bets would still have a 9.5 percent tax levy as stated in the original language.
This new version of the bill will likely be the final version, said Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, who introduced the new language of the bill in conference committee.
“I think we’re 99 percent there,” Messmer said.
Other changes include allowing the two racinos, in Anderson and Shelbyville, to have live dealers in 2020, rather than 2021 as current law states, and reducing the fee to move the Gary casinos from $50 million to $20 million, paid over five years. Spectacle Entertainment would also be required to give up their second license if Terre Haute builds the casino. However, a change made to the bill would now give Spectacle a $40 million tax credit for forfeiting the second license, even if the company ends up buying the Terre Haute location.
“That sacrifice of that license in Gary is regardless of who is operating the Terre Haute location,” Messmer said.
Spectacle would have to give up the second license anyway if the two Gary casinos merge inland, even if Terre Haute decides not to build a casino.
Additionally, the Vigo County board created to select the new owner of the Terre Haute casino was removed, and the Indiana Gaming Commission would be responsible for choosing the best candidate, with input from Vigo County. The competitive betting process to operate the new casino was also removed, and an interested operator would have to submit a proposal to the gaming commission with a $2 million fee for the license.
To open the new casino, the county must pass a referendum in either this fall’s elections or the 2020 primary election to approve the building.
The bill still needs to be approved by the House and Senate, likely by or before Wednesday.
FOOTNOTE: Emily Ketterer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.