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January 22, 2013

State lawmakers aim to shore up riverboat casinos

Senate committee will take up bill Wednesday

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana legislators have introduced bills to help the state’s riverboat casinos hold onto business in the face of growing competition from casinos in neighboring states.

The bills would allow the casinos to move from the boats onto land, reduce their taxes and lift game restrictions on some. A major question, however, is whether any can win approval from lawmakers leery about being perceived as expanding gambling.

Indiana expects a 15 percent drop in the tax revenues from its 13 casinos, from the $614 million it collected last year to about $520 million for the 2015 budget year. State officials blame the decline in part on the opening of new casinos in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.

“Everyone is focusing on dollars but what we’re talking about at the end of the day are thousands of Hoosier jobs,” said Mike Smith, president of the Casino Association of Indiana. “Our industry for the last many, many years operated in a controlled competitive environment. Today, that’s no longer so much controlled with the expansion going on.”

A state Senate committee is scheduled to take up a bill Wednesday that would eliminate the riverboat admissions tax and replace it with an additional tax on casino revenues. It also would eliminate taxes on wagers made with credits given to gamblers by the casinos.

Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, the bill’s sponsor, said the changes are needed to keep Indiana’s casinos “in the game.”

“It’s going to be a hit to the state revenue, but if it makes them more competitive and we get more participation in the state then it should offset,” Boots said. “But if we don’t do it and they aren’t competitive, then we are going to lose continually to the surrounding areas.”

Smith said he didn’t know how much money the changes would save the casinos, and legislative staffers haven’t yet completed an estimate on the potential impact on state revenue.

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