Boots says live dealers dispute won’t kill gambling bill

Lawmakers remain at odds over whether a bill meant to bolster the gambling industry in Indiana should authorize live dealers at the state’s horse track casinos.

But Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, said he won’t let the dispute kill other key provisions in Senate Bill 528, including a tax break for casino marketing expenses.

“The most important thing we can do is the tax break on the free play, the promotional play,” Boots said of the coupons casinos send to customers to entice them visit. “That’s the most advantageous thing we can do.”

Lawmakers from the House and Senate met Monday in a conference committee to start hammering out a compromise on the legislation that is intended to help casinos deal with competition from other states.

Since new casinos started opening in Ohio, gambling operations in southeast Indiana have lost about a quarter of their business.

Lawmakers have all but agreed to the tax cuts for promotional play. But the Senate-passed bill also called for letting the water-based casinos move onto land and the horse track casinos use live dealers.

The House stripped those provisions out of the bill.

But during Monday’s conference committee, advocates of the horse track casinos in Shelbyville and Anderson urged lawmakers to let them hire live dealers for their table games. Currently those black jack, poker, roulette and other games are operated by computer only.

Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith told lawmakers the issue is not about gambling; it’s about jobs.

“It’s about live bodies and people being employed verses electronics,” Smith said. “It’s not that we don’t already have table games. We do. They’re just electric. There is no live person there.”

But some key leaders – including Gov. Mike Pence – said that would be an expansion of gambling. House Speaker Brian Bosma said last week that putting the live dealers back in the bill could lead to a Pence veto.

And Bosma said he’s concerned about the provision as well.

“I am not prepared to engage in a massive expansion of gaming just to keep revenues up,” Bosma said. “We’ll make decisions not based on revenues but on whether it’s right for the state of Indiana.”

But Boots said he’s not giving up. “It’s my intention to restore the table games and moving into the footprint,” he said.

“We will need to have that discussion,” Boots said. But he added, “I don’t want to lose the bill. So we’ll do something.”

The General Assembly’s deadline for action is midnight April 29 but legislative leaders say they’ll try to finish earlier.

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