New Indiana House Bill 1015 Moves onto Gov. Halcomb
Indiana House Bill 1015, the most significant gambling bill in Indiana in the last 25 year, is now on its way to Gov. Eric Holcomb. Though mired in controversy, many are hopeful that the Governor will approve the new bill. If he signs it, it will become law.
Conflicts of Interest
Deciding Governor accepted Free Flights from Casino Operator
Governor Halcomb was criticized for accepting a pair of free flights from Majestic Star’s Spectacle Entertainment. The free flights, arranged by the Republican Governors Association (RGA), were apparently worth a collective $50,000. They gave Spectacle’s owners easy access to Holcomb.
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer, who is Holcomb’s campaign treasurer, insisted that the flights were perfectly legal and customary. He went on to state that the association usually flies governors to its conferences.
This incident naturally raised suspicions that Spectacle Entertainment attempted to influence the new legislation. Governor Halcomb recused himself from all discussions concerning the bill. However, he remains the key person to approve the final bill.
House Speaker’s Law Firm gives Legal Representation to Casino Beneficiary
House Speaker Brian Bosma’s law firm, Kroger, Gardis & Regas LLC, is providing legal representation to the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board. The board is the local entity that could benefit from a Terre Haute casino. Bosma fittingly recused himself from voting on the gaming legislation.
The new gambling bill was endorsed by a 59-36 vote in the House and a 37-12 vote in the Senate. It legalizes sports gambling both in land casinos or on smartphones. It also proposes fully-fledged casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville by 2020.
Additionally, the bill permits a new casino in Terre Haute. Furthermore, it permits the Majestic Star Casino to relocate from Lake Michigan to downtown Gary.
Proposed Relocation and Costs to Casinos
Majestic Star Casino is carded to pay $20 million to the state to move its casino to a new location in Gary. The sum is a whopping $80 million lower than that contained in the bill’s earlier version.
Legislation requires Spectacle Entertainment to continue to pay taxes as if it still owned its two smaller, lower-revenue-producing riverboat casinos. This could result in tens of millions of dollars in losses to the state, while the casino pockets the proceeds. Some Republican and Democratic lawmakers heavily criticized this part of the legislation.
The earlier version of the bill required Spectacle to pay a $100 million fee if it wanted to move one of its casino licenses to a new location in Gary. As such, it would have forced Spectacle to remit its second license, without offering any tax-related incentives.
The new bill now requires Spectacle Gaming to relocate one license within Gary so that one of its casinos can move to Terre Haute. The gaming company will also be able to operate just as many games at the new casino as it has been able to do with its two riverboat casinos combined. This will potentially make the new casino the largest casino in the state.
Fair Compensation for Unfair Competition
The legislation has also covered for reimbursements to Evansville, Hammond, East Chicago, Michigan City and the French Lick Resort. These cities stand to lose to the new casino. The new Terre Haute casino operator will pay Evansville $9 million dollars over three years, while Majestic Star will also compensate over a period of four years. These compensations will be based on market share adjustments.
Despite Divisiveness, Great Support for House Bill 1015
Although met with good resistance, the bill has plenty of supporters. They see it as an opportunity for growth in Indiana as well as a fair deal for the casino operators.
Senator Eddie Melton, who sees the bill as “as an economic development catalyst”, said that it has the potential to turn the economic tide in Gary. In his opinion, the bill could help grow the tax base to fund improvements in public safety, schools and more, without relying on handouts from the state.
The bill has divided both political parties and lawmakers were equally split on the proposed growth of gambling. Some lawmakers judged the bill as too lenient, especially in comparison to its earlier version. Republican Todd Huston, a prominent House Republican, voted against his own bill, even as he had helped finalize the language.
Anticipated Effects of House Bill 1015
House Bill 1015 is one of the largest gaming bills in decades. It will permit horse race tracks to use live table games earlier than anticipated. Gaming operators may own as much as six casinos and racinos. The previous restriction was just two casinos.
One casino operator may own too large a share of the industry while being equally responsible for providing a huge source of Indiana’s taxes. The performance of that one operator will determine whether economic improvement will become a reality.
The new bill will also spell the death of riverboat gambling. Riverboat gambling was first legalized in 1993. Back then, riverboat gambling was a popular model throughout the United States. The lakefront will then be converted into a shipping hub.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer and Gary Senator Eddie Melton are eager about the bill. They both believe that the proposed changes should transform the economically plagued city into a more modern and effective earnings model.