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March 13, 2013

Pence opposes expansion of gaming provisions

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence isn’t saying the word “veto”, but he’s making clear he opposes key provisions in a Senate gaming bill that would allow riverboat casinos to move inland and add live table games to the slot-machine rooms at the state’s two horse-racing tracks.

During a press briefing with Statehouse print reporters Tuesday, Pence said he’s “making it known” to legislators that he wants no expansion of gaming in Indiana.

The Republican governor, who also said he’s never bought a lottery ticket, has said in the past that he favors the “status quo” of legalized gambling in Indiana, despite rising competition for gaming dollars in neighboring states.

But Tuesday was the first time he said he was asking legislators to oppose specific provisions in the gaming bill that he views as significantly expanding gambling.

The provisions, pushed by the gaming industry and approved by the GOP-controlled Senate, would let existing riverboat casinos move their gaming operations onto land and would let the state’s horse-track racinos in Anderson and Shelbyville become full-fledged casinos by adding live table games.

“Let me just say, we’re making it known to legislators (that) while I have no objection to finding ways we can permit these Indiana businesses to be more competitive financially, I do not support expansion of gaming in Indiana.”

The bill is aimed at the state’s ailing casino industry, which has been losing gaming dollars to neighboring states; in turn, Indiana’s gaming tax revenues are also on the decline.  

Total patronage at the state’s 11 casinos have fallen under 2 million for the past five consecutive months—the longest such streak in a decade. Meanwhile, the four new casinos that have opened in Ohio in the last 10 months are expected to see total casino revenues rise to almost $1 billion a year.

Backers of the bill, including Republican Senate President David Long of Fort Wayne and Democrat Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane of Anderson, have argued that the legislation doesn’t expand gaming significantly but instead gives the industry more flexibility to compete for elusive gaming dollars.

Along with gaming lobbyists, they’ve argued the riverboats would be the same casinos as before and that live table games at racinos would be replacing electronic poker and blackjack games that already exist.

But Pence doesn’t see it that way. Nor does Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, who’s described the Senate-approved bill that’s now in the House, as a “pretty significant expansion of gambling in the state.”  Bosma has also said he “doubts the Senate bill will move forward as it’s currently constituted.”

Pence brought up his opposition to the gaming bill with reporters, after he was asked a question about the Hoosier Lottery’s new advertising campaign. The private firm that runs the lottery for the state has revamped the marketing message, focusing on what lottery players dream of doing with a big payout, without mentioning the long odds against winning.  

Pence said he hadn’t seen news stories about the new marketing message, which some lawmakers have described as exploitive and potentially harmful because it encourages gambling.

“I’ve never bought a lottery ticket,” Pence said, before adding, “I don’t gamble on anything except politics.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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