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Senate panel takes up gambling bill

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By MIKE SMITH

AP Political Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana Senate committee is considering legislation that would allow casinos on Lake Michigan and the Ohio River to relocate inland.

Proponents of the bill told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday that moving the casinos on to land could improve their business and help them stave off new competition or possible gambling expansions in neighboring states.

“This bill will help the gaming industry remain healthy and protect revenues and jobs,” said Republican Sen. Ron Alting of Lafayette, the sponsor of the bill.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said Indiana’s casinos deserve some protection because they employ about 16,000 people, and pay about $800 million in annual state taxes and another $300 million in local taxes.

Some casinos oppose the bill, fearing they could lose business to other Indiana casinos that relocate inland and attract more customers.

The committee did not vote on the bill Thursday, but plans to early next week.

The bill would allow riverboat casinos to move inland within the city or county where they are located for a $50 million fee. One of two casinos on Lake Michigan in Gary could be moved to a major intersection of interstates in the city without paying a fee, because the other license would be returned to the Indiana Gaming Commission.

“All we’re asking for is to move to a place where we can capture some traffic,” said Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary.

But the Casino Association of Indiana, which represents 12 of Indiana’s 13 casinos, wants to delay the issue for another year.

John Barnett, a lobbyist for the association, said four casinos supported the bill but eight were opposed. He said the issue should be examined further, even though an interim study committee spent hours this summer and fall exploring ways to keep the industry competitive.

John Hammond, a lobbyist for Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg on the Ohio River near Cincinnati, said it recently invested $330 million in expanding the facility, including millions on the navigational equipment required for riverboat casinos under current law. The bill would remove the navigational requirements.

Hammond suggested that it was unfair to allow other riverboat casinos to move inland when it already had made such a big investment in an expanded facility under the old rules.

“We recognized that competition was on its way,” Hammond said.

Ohio voters approved a ballot measure in November to allow one casino each in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.

An analysis by the Indiana Legislative Services Agency, the General Assembly’s nonpartisan research arm, predicts three casinos in southeastern Indiana — which rely heavily on customers from the Cincinnati area — would be hardest hit by the new competition.

Hollywood Casino, Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun and Belterra Casino near Vevay — all downstream from Cincinnati — could lose $260 million in gambling revenues in the first year after the Ohio casinos open, the analysis said. That would amount to a $93 million cut in taxes they pay.

The report said Hoosier Park’s casino in Anderson, about 25 miles northeast of Indianapolis, would lose gambling customers to a Toledo casino, costing the state another $9 million.

A new casino near Chicago is planned, as are more tribal casinos in Michigan, which already has more than 20 such gambling attractions.

And Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear wants to legalize either slot machines or casino-style gambling at racetracks throughout his state.

 

Posted 1/22/2010

 

 

 

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