Key lawmaker introduces bill to allow live dealers at racinos

A key lawmaker has filed legislation to allow live dealers at Indiana casinos, a move meant to help stave off competition from gambling operations in neighboring states.

Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, is the author of the bill and chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, where most proposed gambling bills will likely be assigned.

Although Dermody is still working on the details of his legislation, he said it will also include provisions to allow riverboat casinos to move onto land within the boundaries of their current footprints, extend free-play by two years, and offer incentives for capital construction.

Dermody said the purpose of the legislation is to “allow the gaming industry to become more competitive.”

Currently, Indiana casinos are facing stiff competition from the gambling industry in Ohio and surrounding states. Legal gambling producesabout $400 million annually in tax revenue for Indiana, but that figure has dropped from about $600 million a few years ago.

“The gaming industry is rapidly changing. It’s a very competitive business,” said Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, who plans to co-sponsor Dermody’s bill in the House. “We’ve seen the states around us adopt gaming enterprises and they are coming after the Indiana market – people who choose to use that as a form of recreation.

“That’s why the live dealers in place of computerized dealers are so important, because the states around us allow live dealers. So the people who prefer and feel more comfortable with live dealers are going to go to those places over places that don’t allow that type of personal interaction,” Austin said.

Two of the state’s largest casinos and horse track betting facilities, Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Grand in Shelbyville, stand to benefit most if the proposed legislation becomes law.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, also plans to co-sponsor Dermody’s bill and said adding live dealers could create hundreds of jobs for his district’s largest employer.

“It’s a huge jobs bill for both Shelbyville and Anderson,” Eberhart said. “When you bring those types of jobs to both communities, it’s a big deal. It gives the casino industry different tools to use and to help them counter the competition they are seeing from other states.”

Eberhart estimates the addition of live dealers to Indiana’s casinos could bring roughly “600 net jobs for both Shelbyville and Anderson.”

Although the bill, if made law, could provide a boost to one of Indiana’s most-struggling industries, Dermody said it isn’t enough.

“I don’t think it is the only thing to do before the session is over,” Dermody said. “I think we might even look at the current tax structure (of casinos).”

When asked if he believes his bill is enough to breath life into Indiana’s casinos, Dermody said, “I’m not sure if anything at this point is enough.”

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