Centaur holding out hope for live dealers at racinos

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Centaur Gaming plans to release an annual report this week that plays up its charitable contributions and tax payments as state senators debate whether to allow the company to add live dealers at its central Indiana racetrack casinos.

Centaur President Jim Brown said Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Grand in Shelbyville are missing out on a big part of the gambling crowd. They’re not attracted to a casino that doesn’t have live-dealer games, he said.

“It’s a missing piece from the full casino experience,” he said.

But Indianapolis-based Centaur would not get live dealers until 2021 under an amendment to House Bill 1540, which the Senate Appropriations Committee will hear later Monday. The bill's author, Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, said the live-dealer delay was proposed in response to concerns from other Indiana casinos, especially French Lick and Rising Sun, about in-state competition.

Other legislators believe the delay stems from Gov. Mike Pence's opposition to expanding gambling. It would mean live dealers wouldn't come to the Indianapolis area until after Pence has had an opportunity to serve a second term. Dermody, though, said the amendment has more to do with other casinos' concerns than Pence.

"This will allow them five years to prepare to compete," he said.

Centaur executives said they still hope the bill will allow them to pilot a relatively small number of live games—24 between the two properties. Brown noted that Indiana's 11 other casinos average around 60 live-dealer games.

In the past, Centaur has talked about building a hotel in Shelbyville if live games were allowed. Brown said that's not a sure thing, but the company would definitely consider it.

“We probably would embark on feasibility studies,” he said.

Brown said Centaur usually releases the annual report in March, so the timing of the Senate hearing is coincidental. The company’s report says it employs more than 2,000 people. Half are women and 22 percent are minorities.

Centaur said it has paid $1.7 billion in taxes and incentives since each of the casinos opened. That includes the $500 million gambling license fee that contributed to the firm’s bankruptcy in 2010 and $696 million in state wagering taxes. The company has also paid $104.5 million to Madison and Shelby counties and the cities of Anderson and Shelbyville.

Wagering taxes are the bulk of the casinos’ tax burden. In the last state fiscal year ended June 30, Centaur paid $50.3 million in wagering taxes for Hoosier Park, which saw $206 million in gambling income.

Centaur paid $60.6 million on Indiana Grand’s gambling income, which was $241 million.

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