Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is asking lawmakers not to approve an expansion of gambling despite growing pressure on Indiana from new casinos in bordering states.
Pence told reporters Tuesday that he has concerns about the industry's effort to bring the state's riverboat casinos on land, add live table games at the two horse racing tracks and approve portable gambling devices.
"On that issue, we are making it known to legislators, that while I have no objection to finding ways that we can permit these Indiana businesses to be more competitive financially, I do not support an expansion of gaming in Indiana," Pence said.
The new Republican governor did, however, leave the door open on other priorities sought by the gambling industry, including changes to the state's casino admission tax.
Supporters of the new measures sought by Indiana's casino industry say they're necessary to keep pace with new competition from states including Ohio and Illinois. They also say the proposals don't constitute an expansion of gambling.
The most recent threat to Indiana's casinos comes from the opening of the $400 million Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati, across the river from southeast Indiana and some of the riverboat casinos stationed there.
Pence previously has said he supports keeping Indiana's gambling options at the status quo. This is the first time he has said he's actively asking lawmakers to vote against any expansion.
Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, said he didn't believe the provisions would expand gambling since those table games are already at the horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville.
"We're not expanding the number of games there, we're not expanding the number of machines. It will be the same," Boots said.
Boots also maintains that allowing the casinos on the Ohio River and Lake Michigan to build on adjacent property doesn't expand gambling, either.
"It's not moving to another location where you would attract a different clientele," Boots said.
Boots said he believed the tax changes being proposed were the most important issues in the bill as the Indiana casino owners consider how to respond to growing competition from neighboring states.
"They choose where they're going to invest their money and we're trying to create a business-friendly environment in the state of Indiana just like we do with any other economic development incentive package," Boots said.
House public policy committee chairman Bill Davis, R-Portland, said he was working with other legislators on changes to the bill and expected his committee to take it up next week.
Davis said he wasn't surprised that Pence would have problems with the current casino proposals.
"I really don't see how you couldn't view them as expansions," Davis said.
Gambling opponents praised the governor's support Tuesday.
"I am pleased to have a governor oppose the expansion of gambling in Indiana," said Dan Gangler, spokesman for the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, which opposes the gambling bill. "I am encouraged by fewer gamblers visiting casinos. Maybe people are wising up to casinos deceptions."