This week’s opening of a Cincinnati casino (the Horseshoe, right) will noticeably reduce revenue to southeast Indiana’s casinos – and to the state treasury. Add the three other Ohio casinos, southern Michigan casinos and the likelihood of more gambling opportunities in Chicago, and it’s clear that Indiana casino revenue will continue to slide.
After two decades of consistently expanding gambling, Indiana lawmakers are considering more modest changes in gambling law this year.
Gov. Mike Pence and House and Senate leaders are right to make it clear they don’t want any legislation that would expand gambling this year, though there may be some disagreements over what constitutes expansion.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, for example, believes a bill the Senate passed does indeed expand gambling opportunities. But Senate President Pro Tem David Long disagrees, and he appears to make the better case.
The most noticeable change in the bill would not increase the number of casinos but would allow them to move inland. When Indiana entered the casino gambling business in the early 1990s, restricting casinos to boats on Lake Michigan and the Ohio River made gambling more acceptable to the public and also put Indiana in a position to rely more on the spending of residents and visitors from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and the Chicago area than Hoosiers.
But the industry has always asked for more. First, gambling could only take place when the boats were navigating the waters. Then, the boats could stay moored during bad weather. Then the requirement that the boats had to be on open water was eliminated. Then the idea that the boats had to be navigable at all ended. The most recent casino in French Lick was built beside a glorified pond.
Now comes the proposal of allowing casinos to move away from the water. The first beneficiary likely would be Lake County, where officials desperately want to move one of the two side-by-side boats in Gary, possibly to a site near Interstate 65 and U.S. 30.
Another subtle proposal is a no-brainer. Under current law, the racinos and horse tracks in Shelbyville and Anderson can offer only electronic games, so there is no dealer in blackjack or poker, no wheel operator in roulette. The proposed law would allow real table games run by real people.
The bill would also make numerous – and complex – changes to the way the state taxes casinos. Bottom line: A tax break of nearly $250 million for the casinos. Lawmakers should examine the tax changes closely, but Hoosiers also should understand that tax revenue from casinos is already dropping.
The state’s heavy reliance on gambling for state revenue was never the greatest of ideas, and Indiana’s casinos will likely never be as popular as they were before the widespread competition. Officials are right not to expand gambling. Responding to increased competition by moving some casinos and giving them at least some tax relief appears reasonable.