Live dealers to be delayed under gambling bill amendment

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Racetrack casinos would have to wait until 2021 to get live dealers at table games under a proposed Senate amendment to a gambling bill that has already passed the House.

The Senate Appropriations Committee considered but didn’t vote on the proposal Thursday. If amended, the bill would still let riverboat casinos rebuild on land and extend a tax break for some casino marketing.

The committee is expected to vote Monday.

Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said the bill is a compromise that allows the racinos in Anderson and Shelbyville to eventually have live dealers while giving smaller casinos – including one at French Lick – the opportunity to adjust to the future competition.

But state Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said delaying the live dealers may cause support for the bill to “begin to unravel.”

“There were some strong agreements by the General Assembly that we want to address gaming as a whole, and to take the racinos out until 2021, after the governor’s second term, is unreasonable and it’s unwarranted,” Austin said. “This is not going to help this bill pass at all.”

Gov. Mike Pence has said he’s open to changes that let the industry become more competitive but he opposes any “expansion” of gambling. He hasn’t publicly defined what that means but key lawmakers say he’s considers live dealers an expansion.

Austin said she will be getting together with racino supporters and preparing a game plan for how to handle the next few weeks as the session wraps up.

“You can’t fix the industry by leaving one part of the industry out,” Austin said.

While the amendment doesn’t allow racinos to have live dealers until next decade, it eliminates language in the House version that placed requirements on the number of electronic games they can have. The House version requires that half of the games at a racino be electronic.

Meanwhile, the bill’s author state Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, said he supports language in the Senate amendment that will make a tax break on so-called free play permanent. The deduction – which is set to expire soon – means casinos don’t pay taxes on credits they offer to customers to entice them to come gamble.

Dermody said that’s the top marketing tool casinos use to compete with out-of-state casinos.

Dermody also said he believes that legislators agree on a the proposal to allow casinos to move inland.

“I believe everybody, from my opinion, is sold on why land-based is so important and the short-term jobs that it creates,” Dermody said. “It allows those facilities to compete with surrounding states.”

The proposed changes also would eliminate a tax credit contained in the House version of the bill to help casinos pay for the construction of a land-based facility. Kenley has said he will be more cautious with how the state spends its money.

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