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April 19, 2013

Budget forecasters predict bigger drop in gaming revenues

(Continued)

INDIANAPOLIS —

Four months later, in the April forecast used in the final budget bill negotiations, estimates are more grim: they're now predicting a drop to $492 million by 2015.  That includes a drop in racino tax revenues, from $117 million in 2012 to just over $95 million by 2015. 

For lawmakers like Rep. Terri Austin, a Democrat from Anderson with the Hoosier Park Racing and Casino in her district, the latest forecast numbers are evidence that the General Assembly needs to act this session, before it ends April 29.

“This really paints the picture that we must do something to protect the state's revenue source,” Austin said. “It's our third-largest revenue stream, aside from personal and sales taxes, and the state depends on that money at this point.” 

Austin is part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers with casinos in their districts frustrated that a gaming bill, Senate Bill 528, has been watered down from an original version aimed at giving casinos more flexibility to compete. 

The current version of the bill, now caught in House-Senate conference-committee negotiations, prevents casinos from expanding their physical footprint and bars racinos from adding live table games, which would result in about 600 new jobs. 

“This industry employs thousands of people,” Austin said. “So we're trying to do two things: Trying to make sure we don't hurt ourselves in unemployment picture and at the same time, keep our revenue stream as protected as possible.” 

Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who wants a 10 percent income tax cut in the final budget bill, opposes adding live table games at the racinos, calling it an expansion of gaming he won't support. 

Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of Indiana Gaming Insight, said the downward revised numbers in the April forecast shouldn't come as a surprise. 

Numbers released by the Indiana Gaming Commission earlier this month showed Indiana's riverboat casinos took another financial hit in March, after five consecutive months of lower revenues. The most dramatic: While a brand-new casino in Cincinnati raked in $21 million in March, the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, 30 miles away, saw revenues drop by $9.8 million from a year ago, or 25 percent. 

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