Indiana gaming regulators enlist market experts to study sports betting legalization

Regulators behind the Indiana gaming industry are taking steps to gather a clear idea of the possibilities of sports betting in the state, months after the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 law prohibiting the practice in all but four states.

In late July, the Indiana Gaming Commission entered into a two-year contract with Eilers & Krejcik Gaming LLC, a market analysis firm specializing in the nation’s burgeoning sports wagering industry.

The contract obtained by The Statehouse File reports Eilers & Krejcik will be compensated with $74,999 over a two-year period as the firm conducts a variety of studies that involve sports gambling. But the work, IGC officials report, has already begun on “an aggressive timeline” to provide legislators with fiscal impact estimates and policy considerations for upcoming study of the topic.

Sara Gonso Tait, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, said her agency first learned of Eilers & Krejcik from gambling regulators in West Virginia, where sports wagering has been legal since May.

Negotiations with the company started around June, she said.

Researchers for Eilers & Krejcik declined to comment. Any findings, they said, should be available in the fall when lawmakers convene for the interim study.

This isn’t the first time Indiana has grappled with the possibility of legal sports betting.

Last year, multiple states proposed legislation to deregulate or legalize sports wagering, preempting a Supreme Court case that was scheduled to be heard in spring 2018.

The case, Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletics Association, took aim at the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, of 1992, which banned sports wagering across the nation.

Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana, who were grandfathered into the measure, continued the practice, though Nevada offered the most freedoms.

In January, officials for Eilers & Krejcik told the Chicago Sun-Times that as many as 30 states could introduce sports betting bills in 2018.

Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Brazil, introduced one of the two pieces of legislation to legalize sports betting in 2018. Though the bill did not survive, Morrison said he will do so again in 2019.

Two Indiana lawmakers—Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, and Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Brazil—authored bills during the 2018 legislative session that would have permitted the practice outright, should the Supreme Court overturn PASPA restrictions.

Although the justices did so on May 14 in a 6-3 ruling, neither bill survived the session. Instead, lawmakers opted for a summer study committee, though meetings have yet to be scheduled.

Both Ford and Morrison said they plan to introduce legislation again in 2019, even if that’s before the IGC completes its study with Eilers & Krejcik.

“Knowledge is power, and it’s good to identify as much data ahead of time as we can,” Morrison said. “But we’re moving forward this session.”

That’s because, Morrison and Ford added, the legislators are committed to drawing potential revenue out of the existing “gray market,” where gamblers may already be participating in sports wagering events illegally.

A fiscal analysis of Morrison’s 2017 legislation, House Bill 1325, for example, projected between $3.1 million and $18.8 million in revenue annually, should the law impose a 9.25 percent tax on gamblers.

“People are currently betting on sports locally,” Ford said. “We don’t know what is possible until we introduce sports wagering.”

But Jennifer Roberts, associate director of the University of Nevada’s International Center for Gaming Regulation, said lawmakers should be wary of revenue estimates.

Roberts disclosed that the center had recently been contacted by state officials to create educational programs about sports wagering. She declined to identify who contacted the center but said plans should be finalized this week.

While she said that potential revenue nationwide has been projected to land anywhere between $80 billion and $450 billion, actual results cannot be guaranteed for a state.

“You have to really understand the business operates at a low margin,” she said. “It will certainly add some benefits, but it’s not going to suddenly repair all of your roads.”

And the variety of platforms used at sports wagering events can mean different outcomes for the state.

Both Ford and Morrison said they would prefer to see mobile platforms in addition to physical venues. A mobile platform, they explained, would allow an attendee at a sports event to wager on the outcome of a game from their seat using a personal device like a smartphone.

Roberts said this tactic is beneficial because it can help draw gamblers out of illegal venues by requiring them to register on licensed apps, which usually include vetting requirements and in, some cases, geofencing technology that limits mobile gaming access only to states where sports wagering is legal.

But the expansion of mobile gaming isn’t good news for everyone.

Christina Gray, executive director of the Indiana Council for Problem Gambling and former director of compliance for the IGC, said she is concerned about the spread of Internet-based gambling because it poses a wider and more nuanced range of issues for problem gamblers, particularly those who are younger.

Gray, who is currently preparing presentations to students in the middle-school, high-school and college age ranges, said some video games now promote “lootboxes” — virtual mystery boxes that are purchased with real money to possibly acquire a key game item or weapon. That could translate to larger gambling problems later in life, she added.  

Internet gambling, especially in its subtle forms, still requires time to understand. That’s why she is pleased to see the IGC’s partnership with Eilers & Krejcik.

“What the commission is doing is very good. It’s good to at least study it,” Gray said in a phone call. “We’re keeping an eye on it to make sure language is there to protect problem gamblers.”

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