Indiana Legislature Passes Biggest and Most Controversial Gambling Expansion Package in Decades

Posted on: April 25, 2019, 10:17h. 

Last updated on: April 25, 2019, 10:17h.

Indiana lawmakers passed a controversial bill in the dying minutes of the legislative session in Indianapolis on Wednesday, sending the state’s biggest gaming expansion package in decades to the desk of Governor Eric Holcomb.

Eric Holcomb
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb was criticized last month when it was discovered he had accepted several free flights on a plane belonging to the owners of Spectacle Entertainment. (Image: WFYI)

House Bill 1015 is not so controversial because it would legalize full-scale mobile sports betting – although this is always guaranteed to ruffle some feathers – it’s more to do with the movement in inland of two Gary riverboat casinos, recently purchased by Spectacle Entertainment.

Tax Breaks

Majestic Star I and Majestic Star II, moored on Buffington Harbor on Lake Michigan, operate as a single casino but are technically separate entities with separate licenses.

The bill would allow Spectacle to move one license to a more prominent area of Gary, while the other would be relocated 172 miles south to Terre Haute. Spectacle would then be required to compete for the Terre Haute license with other operators as part of a competitive bidding process.

Spectacle would be permitted the same number of gaming positions at the relocated Gary casino as it had at Majestic Star I and Majestic Star II combined, which means it could potentially become the largest casino in the state. But it would still be paying taxes as if it owned the two smaller, lower-revenue riverboat casinos.

Rep. Ben Smaltz (R-Auburn) a critic of the bill, said told the House Wednesday that Spectacle could benefit by $40 million to $50 million over five years.

“This is a monumental policy shift, and this is the beginning,” Smaltz warned, as reported by The Indianapolis Star. “…This issue is going to come back and haunt us in the future.”

Frequent Flyer

Eyebrows have also been raised by Gov. Holcomb’s perceived cozy relationship with Spectacle. The governor was criticized recently for accepting rides on a private jet belonging to the company’s owners Rod Ratcliff and Greg Gibson, which gave the two men hours of unrestricted access to the governor.

Holcomb admitted that he “overheard discussions” about Spectacle’s casino plans but that no questions related to casinos were directed at him. Holcomb’s campaign treasurer described the flights as “perfectly legal and customary.”

Also in the bill is a provision that would authorize live table games for racetracks and one that would raise the cap on the number of casinos a single operator can own in the state from two to six. Some lawmakers are concerned this could allow one entity to come to dominate a market that the state heavily relies on for tax revenues.