Latest version of gambling bill brings back mobile sports betting

Hoosiers could legally place sports bets on their smartphones and horse-track casinos could offer live-dealer table games prior to 2021 under the latest version of a massive gambling bill being considered by state lawmakers.

The updated legislation—which was previously filed as Senate Bill 552 but has become House Bill 1015 due to the taxes tied to it—also would decrease the fee that the owner of the two casinos in Gary would have to pay in order to move a casino from Lake Michigan to a more convenient interstate location. 

Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, introduced the conference committee language of the bill on Monday morning. Messmer was one of the original authors of SB 552.

The bill would legalize sports wagering for adults ages 21 and older as of July 1 with a 9.5% tax rate. The tax rate is higher than some states, such as Nevada and New Jersey, where the rates are 6.75% and 8.5%, respectively. But it’s lower than others like Mississippi or West Virginia, where the rates are 12% and 10%.

Despite House lawmakers' decision to remove mobile sports betting provisions from the legislation, the latest version reinserts the language and would make it even easier to sign up. Individuals would be allowed to sign up in person at a casino or off-track betting facility, such as Winner’s Circle in downtown Indianapolis, or through an online process. 

Betting on esports or high school and other amateur youth sports would be prohibited.

The bill would not require official league data to be used—another contentious detail that has risen as the legislation has moved through the Indiana General Assembly this year. Several professional sports leagues have lobbied to include the requirement.

The date when horse-track casinos can offer live-dealer table games also continues to change as the legislation moves through the process. The bill initially would have moved the date this year instead of the already-approved date of 2021, but House lawmakers eliminated that provision.

The newest version would allow live-dealer table games beginning Jan. 1, 2020, but Messmer said that’s likely to change to July 1, 2020. 

As for sections of the bill affecting casino movement, Spectacle Entertainment—which acquired Gary casinos Majestic Star I and Majestic Star II earlier this year—would have to pay a $20 million fee if it chooses to move forward with plans to close its existing riverboats and build a $300 million casino along the Interstate 80/94 corridor in Gary. 

That’s significantly lower than the $100 million fee the House Public Policy Committee recommended and a reduction from the $50 million fee the House Ways and Means Committee inserted into the bill.

The legislation would require a minimum investment of $150 million for the new Gary casino, which would be allowed to have 2,764 gaming positions—much higher than the 1,684 positions now at the two Gary casinos combined. 

If all of the gaming positions were utilized—and most casinos do not use all of the gaming positions allowed by the state—it would be the largest casino in Indiana, a fact that has drawn concern from other casino operators.

If Spectacle sold the new Gary casino within five years, it would have to pay a $20 million fee—that’s a decrease from the $50 million the House version of the legislation would have imposed.

Spectacle, which is operated by former Centaur Gaming executives, would have to surrender the second casino license it currently controls to the state. That extra license would be used for a new casino in Vigo County, where Terre Haute is located.

The newest version of the bill gives Spectacle a $40 million tax credit awarded over a five-year period for giving up that extra license.

Spectacle also would be allowed to re-obtain the license intended for a Terre Haute casino, and the competitive bid process that House lawmakers established has been removed. Instead, interested casino operators would submit proposals to the Indiana Gaming Commission and the selected operator would have to pay a $2 million fee for the license.

The House version of the bill created a process for companies to bid on the Terre Haute license and set the minimum bid at $25 million. 

Spectacle has already expressed an interest in operating a casino in Terre Haute and has proposed opening a $100 million to $150 million facility. 

The bill would require a minimum investment of $100 million in the Terre Haute casino, and the number of gaming positions would be capped at 1,500.

If the Gary casinos are consolidated and a Terre Haute casino opens, the state would have 12 casinos and two horse track casinos in total.

The bill still needs final approval from both the House and the Senate.

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