Senate panel to consider riverboat casino changes

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A top state senator said Wednesday that his committee will consider legislation that would allow riverboat casinos on Lake Michigan and the Ohio River to move inland in hopes of staving off new competition from neighboring states.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said Indiana’s casinos deserve to be protected because they are fairly clean and well-regulated, employ 16,000 people, and bring in about $1.1 billion in annual state and local tax revenue,

“It’s a situation that calls for allowing these people to do things that they ought to be able to do to meet anticipated competition head on,” Kenley said. Inland locations in the cities or counties where the riverboat casinos are located could draw more customers, he 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.

The Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, 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.

Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, is drafting the bill that Kenley’s committee will consider.

He said it would allow riverboat casinos to move inland for a $50 million fee, and they would no longer be required to have navigational systems.

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.

Some lawmakers want to provide tax relief to casinos at Indiana’s two pari-mutuel racetracks. They are now required to pay wagering tax on revenue that is not kept by the casino, but is set aside for their communities, the horse-racing industry and a casino in southern Indiana’s Orange County.

But according to the Legislative Services Agency, that would mean a $26.5 million loss in taxes to the state. Alting said because of the state’s worsening fiscal condition, he would not include the proposed tax break in his bill.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he would not support an expansion of gambling or tax breaks to casinos. But he said he was open to the idea of relocating existing riverboat casinos to inland locations.