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March 4, 2013

HAYDEN: Offering casinos incentives a real gamble

Legislators should not ignore the growing online option

(Continued)

INDIANAPOLIS —

The bricks-and-mortar casinos may argue that the threat of Internet gambling is overblown; that most bettors will still want they offer: Acres of slot machines and gaming tables and cocktails and the company of others.  

But Americans have abandoned bricks-and-mortar department stores, bookstores and movie theaters in favor of the online alternatives. Why should betting away your hard-earned dollars be any different? 

Just more than half of those industry experts surveyed by the American Gaming Association said legalized online gaming in the U.S. could help grow the existing casino industry in states like Indiana. But almost one-quarter of them think that legalized online gambling would cannibalize business from existing casino operations.

Here’s another factor, to complicate the odds: Casino patrons are an aging crowd — the American Gaming Association puts the median age at 47. They may still like the casino experience, but it’s not one that appeals to a younger demographic. 

So consider the threat that social media, favored by a younger demographic, may play now that it’s stepped into the world of gaming. Last summer, Facebook launched a real-money gambling app that offers winners cash prizes. It’s only available to Facebook users in the United Kingdom who are over the age of 18. For now, that is. 

Indiana has become dependent on gaming tax revenues, so the stakes just keep getting higher as our casinos face increased competition. But one of the questions that legislators need to ask in considering giveaways to the industry: Are we chasing good money after bad? 

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

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