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Indiana casinos want wagering, admission taxes cut

September 30, 2014

A legislative committee is weighing requests from Indiana casino operators for cuts to the state's wagering and riverboat admission taxes as they try to stem the loss of gamblers to competitors in neighboring states.

Several casino representatives have asked the Legislature's public policy study committee to consider steps such as reducing the tax on casino winnings that now ranges from 40 percent to 15 percent depending on annual revenue. Many also want elimination of the $3 admission tax for everyone who enters one of the state's 11 riverboats, even if not gambling.

Casino officials said they need help in making those riverboats and the two horse track casinos near Indianapolis more competitive with casinos in neighboring states — especially tribal casinos in Michigan that pay little to no gambling taxes, The Times of Munster reported.

"You have to take a look at the whole tax structure to create a better sandbox," said Ryan Soultz of Boyd Gaming, which owns the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City.

Wagering and admission taxes brought in nearly $700 million for the state and local governments during the budget year that ended June 30. Before the 2008 recession, those revenues topped $900 million a year.

Committee chairman Rep. Tom Dermody, a Republican from LaPorte, said the panel will consider the requests during a meeting next week as it prepares possible recommendations for the legislative session that starts in January.

"While I don't think we'll ever get back to the revenues we once had, we need to look at all these issues to see what might work as a whole," he said.

Casino leaders pushed for similar tax changes during the General Assembly's 2013 session, but they were largely opposed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence and many GOP legislative leaders.

The question of whether the riverboats should be allowed to move to locations on land continues to divide casino operators.

Representatives of Gary's Majestic Star casinos, Evansville's Tropicana and the Rising Star Casino in Lawrenceburg all have told the commission they want permission for moving to new buildings on land adjacent to their current boats.

Majestic Star CEO Peter Liguori said operating a casino on a riverboat is inefficient and costly, pointing to the $5 million it must spend a year for a crew that rarely moves the boats and to maintain marine capability.

Nevertheless, other casino operators, including East Chicago's Ameristar, said permitting land-based casinos would upset the current competitive balance.

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