Speaker Brian Bosma pulled a controversial gambling bill off the Indiana House calendar on Monday in part as an attempt to reduce the financial hit communities with casinos would suffer under the proposal.
“I thought the bill needed some work,” Bosma said Monday morning as Republicans and Democrats went to caucus to discuss legislation before afternoon votes.
“I’m meeting with the author and Ways and Means folks and some others to try to work through (it), mostly with an eye toward making sure that local units are treated fairly and are not penalized overly, while still trying to accomplish some of the policy goals of the bill.”
House Bill 1540, authored by Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, allows riverboat casinos to rebuild on land and lets casinos based at horse-tracks have live dealers for table games, rather than the electronic gaming systems they use now.
But it also kills existing economic agreements between the state’s casinos and communities that produce more than $100 million in revenue for local governments, community foundations and other programs.
In addition, the bill eliminates the admissions tax and a supplemental state payment that together generate nearly $90 million for local governments.
Communities would have until Jan. 1, 2017, to reach new agreements with their casinos. If negotiations failed, the Indiana Gaming Commission would intervene and could set a local development fee between 2 percent and 7 percent of the casino’s gambling profits.
Under those guidelines, local communities could recoup between $46 million and $161 million in revenue.
The proposal passed the Ways & Means Committee easily last week, but few of its members hail from districts with casinos. Since then, local officials affected by the bill have been lobbying against it.
Bosma said Monday that the proposed change “seemed a little abrupt.”
“So we’re looking at alternatives,” he said.
The bill is meant to help casinos deal with competition from newer casinos in Ohio and expanded gambling options in Illinois that have driven wagering down at operations in Indiana.
Indiana casinos have advocated the elimination of the admissions tax, which the companies pay each time a customer walks through the turnstile – even if they leave and come back later.
Bosma said he knows that doing something about the admissions tax is a priority. But, he added, “We have to find a sweet spot to try to move the bill forward if possible.”
Bosma said he withdrew the bill from consideration for Monday because “the speaker cannot force someone to pass on a bill. He can strongly encourage. But the speaker can keep it off the calendar.”