Lawmakers are considering a controversial plan to take $10 million in annual slot machine revenues away from the state’s horse racing industry and give the money to the auto racing industry instead.
The move—debated Monday in the House Ways and Means Committee—is meant to subsidize upgrades at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and make low-interest loans available to other auto tracks and businesses across the state.
Indiana Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, said the money would help an industry that creates thousands of jobs in the state but would also eliminate the need for lawmakers to find money in the state budget to pay for the incentives. Turner’s proposal would also impose a new $1 tax on the tickets for major events—such as the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400—at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and capture new sales and income tax revenue generated there.
“We think this proposed amendment speaks not only to the need and desire to assist IMS but to help all of motorsports across the states, particularly the smaller tracks that run races every weekend,” Turner said.
He offered the proposal as an amendment to Senate Bill 91, which originally created a motor sports development zone to capture tax revenue to help the speedway. As passed by the Senate, the legislation created a sort of partnership between the state and the IMS. The speedway would sell $100 million in bonds to be paid off over 20 years using the tax revenue generated in the development zone.
But some critics said the legislation didn’t require the speedway to put enough resources into the project, which led lawmakers to start rethinking the legislation. However, the amendment offered by Turner still wouldn’t require a direct investment by IMS.
Instead, it calls for the state to borrow money for the $100 million project, which would pay for grandstand upgrades, lighting and and improvements to make the facility accessible to people with disabilities. The state would then use $5 million annually from slot machine revenues generated at the state’s two horse-track casinos to help make payments on the loans. That cash is part of about $57 million in annual slot revenue that now goes to the horse industry to supplement race purses and encourage Indiana breeding.
The state would also recoup money for the loan from the ticket tax —which would generate about $1 million annually—and by capturing new sales and income taxes generated in the zone, which would encompass the speedway and its adjacent property.
Turner’s plan also calls for the state to take an additional $5 million from the slots revenue to create a loan-interest loan fund for other motorsports initiatives. He told the Ways and Means Committee that Indiana has the most auto tracks per capita in the nation and is one of three places in the world where the motorsports industry is so strong.
But Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, said he doesn’t understand the point of creating the low-interest loan fund for auto tracks that haven’t actually asked for help. Rep. Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette, said he’s concerned that the proposal would not require the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to repay the state loan if the other sources don’t generate enough revenue.
And Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, complained that the bill will simply take money from one private industry—horse racing—and give it to another. That was the focus as well for testimony from John Keeler, a lobbyist for Centaur Holdings LLC, the company that owns racinos in Indiana—Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Grand in Shelbyville.
“This amounts to a $200 million tax on the racinos over period of 20 years. It’s highly inappropriate that the racinos should be put in a position to subsidize the motor sports industry,” Keeler said. “There’s no nexus between the horse racing and the racino industry and motor sports.”
Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, delayed a vote on the amendment and the bill, and said it will be reconsidered on Tuesday morning.
But the committee did approve part of the plan as an amendment to SB 528, which is legislation meant to help the state’s casino industry compete with new gambling operations in other states. The committee passed that proposal 11-10 but has not voted on the amended bill. That’s expected on Tuesday morning as well.