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Indiana lawmakers urged to strengthen casino industry

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A southern Indiana economic development association is urging the Legislature to strengthen the state's casino industry by revising existing gambling laws to allow it to remain competitive as casinos open in surrounding states.

New Albany-based One Southern Indiana says the move is necessary to continue to provide the tax revenue, jobs and other benefits that have become an integral part of the economies of Indiana and cities that have casinos. Republican state Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany told The Times of Munster that changes in Indiana gambling laws could include allowing casinos to relocate to more easily accessible sites, such as along a highway, instead of on a river or lake.

That could bring together groups from opposite ends of the state because officials in Gary also are interested in a land-based casino being approved during the upcoming legislative session. The common theme is increased competition from neighboring states.

Ten of Indiana's 13 casinos are near neighboring states. At northwest Indiana's five casinos, a majority of the gamblers are from Illinois or Michigan. Those casinos are now facing possible competition in Chicago. Illinois lawmakers approved legislation earlier this year that would bring casinos to Chicago and four other areas. Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill, saying it didn't include enough ethics protections and he wanted money from the gambling expansion to go to education. But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said recently that he and Quinn are "very close" to a deal for a Chicago casino.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has pushed to lift a constitutional ban on casino gambling in that state, but had been stopped by then-Senate President David Williams. Beshear appointed Williams in October to become a circuit judge in southern Kentucky. Beshear contends that Kentucky is losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year to neighboring states that already have casinos.

The Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati is scheduled to open in the spring and is expected to draw customers from Indiana casinos in Lawrenceburg, Rising Sun and Florence, which will mean fewer tax dollars crossing in to Indiana.

It is not yet known whether supporters of gambling reform from northwestern Indiana will work with lawmakers from southern Indiana on legislation that could help both regions of the state. State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, the leading proponent of a land-based casino in Gary, plans to bundle in one bill the casino move and other Gary-specific proposals.

When Indiana first allowed casinos, state law required the boats to go on several daily cruises and to be self-propelled. The state later approved a land-based casino at French Lick and allowed horse tracks in Anderson and Shelbyville to add slot machines. In 2002, lawmakers changed the law to allow the casinos to remain docked.

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