Locals get to keep casino revenue under House bill changes

The House has stripped language out of a controversial gambling bill that would have cut millions of dollars in funding that goes to communities where casinos are located.

House Bill 1540 would send the questions about money to a study committee for review after the General Assembly adjourns in April.

The bill – eligible for House passage on Wednesday – would still allow riverboat casinos to rebuild on land, create new tax breaks for casino investment, and allow live dealers at the two racinos based at horse tracks.

It also provides financial help to the French Lick Resort Casino located in Orange County.

“What is good for the state of Indiana is what this legislation is all about,” said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary.

The legislation is now more or less in the shape it was when it left the House Public Policy Committee earlier this session – with provisions meant to help casinos, horse track racinos, and the French Lick gambling operation deal with new competition in Ohio and Illinois.

But it’s not clear Gov. Mike Pence would be willing to sign the bill into law if it passes the House and Senate. Pence has said he’s opposed to any expansion of gambling, a term he has not publicly defined.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Tuesday the governor has told him he opposes letting the racinos have live dealers, which would replace some of the electronic table games they now use. That didn’t stop a majority of House members – and a majority of Republicans – from voting to keep the live dealers in the legislation.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said the racino dealers are an important part of what he called a three-pronged approach to the industry.

“They all have to stay together all the time,” Pelath said. “We have to manage this industry holistically.”

The legislation appeared in jeopardy last week after it underwent a major revision in the House Ways and Means Committee, where members voted to eliminate the casino admissions tax and a supplemental state payment that together generate nearly $90 million for local governments.

As passed by the Ways and Means Committee, the bill also would have scrapped economic agreements between the casinos and local governments that produced another $100 million in revenue for programs and projects.

Communities would have had until Jan. 1, 2017, to reach new agreements with their casinos. If negotiations failed, the Indiana Gaming Commission would have served as an arbiter and set a local development fee between 2 percent and 7 percent of the casino’s gambling profits.

On Tuesday, Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said those changes had been a mistake. “We are backing away from that,” Brown said.

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