Over the past 100 years or so, the Indiana gambling scene has swung from freewheeling to nearly non-existent to back again. From the riverboat gamblers of the 19th century to the huge gambling industry in Jeffersonville which became a Midwest mecca for players in the 1920s and 30s, Indiana had earned a reputation as a fun place to gamble.
The 1930s saw most of the good times end in Indiana for some time to come – until riverboat gambling was reawakened (this time legally) in the 2000s. Since then, the Indiana gambling industry has provided much-needed funds for the sate government coffers and has steadily grown since its reintroduction.
Population: 6.63 million (off. 2016 est.)
Area: 36,418 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 13
• The first organized baseball game may have been played in Cooperstown, but the first professional game was held in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in May 1871
• In Indiana, it is illegal to sell soft drinks in a liquor store.
• Up to 90% of the world’s popcorn originates in Indiana.
• Bedford, Indiana, is known as the Limestone Capitol of the World.
The history of gambling in Indiana is an interesting one, indeed, with the acceptability and legality of gambling going through a few cycles before becoming the healthy industry it is for state coffers today.
For some reason, gambling has tended to be viewed a bit more morally laxly in Indiana than in many parts of the U.S. Indeed, at least one city – Jeffersonville, to be precise – credits its survival through the Great Depression and flooding in the 1930s to casino gaming; in the ‘40s, the town became known throughout the region as “Little Las Vegas.” Following World War II, however, conservative interests shut down the casinos in Indiana in following a nationwide trend.
Pari-mutuel betting stayed legal in Indiana despite the crackdown on other forms of gambling, and the horse racing industry in the state has stayed active since the 1930s. Aside from the establishment of the Hoosier Lottery, based on a voter referendum in 1988, though, little in Indiana gambling law changed until a nearly revolutionary act in the 90s.
This is not to say that gambling was non-existent in Indiana through those six decades of strict illegality. Heck, the so-called “Big House” was a single casino/sports betting operation in East Chicago which also handled wagers at 15 other locations in Indiana. First opening “officially” in 1929, when the Big House was finally shut down by federal authorities in 1950, annual turnover was reported at $9 million (worth about $80 million today). The 825 Club, a slightly smaller operation, stayed opned until 1974.
In 1996, the Indiana state legislature opened the way for legal riverboat casinos, and this sub-industry peaked with 10 in operation by 2010; despite much of the rest of the U.S. turning against riverboat gambling, all these operations are open for business today.
Also of note: The state’s “Gaming Control Division” was established in 2007 and, in its first four years of operation had confiscated a whopping 5,300-plus illegal gaming devices and had closed a dozen illegl operations offering poker and/or sports betting.
Indiana’s 10 riverboat casinos are all located on Lake Michigan or the Ohio River. A single land-based casino resort is located in French Lick (hey, that’s Larry Bird’s hometown!), and casino games may be enjoyed in racinos at Hoosier Park in Anderson and the Indian Grand Casino in Shelbyville.
With regard to the gambling age in Indiana, it’s pretty standard stuff: Casino betting is limited to those of age 21 years or older, while most other forms of wagering (including pari-mutuel betting) requires an age of 18 only.
How about Sonny Sheetz, Kid Hyames and Tiger Layer? These three are the Chicago mobsters who opened and ran The Big House in East Chicago, departing the South Side of the city shortly after the Valentine Day’s Massacre.
All three stuck with the operation until its busting in 1950. While Sheetz and Hyames – both in their 70s at the time of trial – were convicted of associated crimes in ’51, Layer apparently went scot free. Unfortunately, though a masterful accountant, Layer squandered any and all money made working with his mob compatriots, perhaps much of it on the very games he touted illegally for so long…
Indiana gambling law allows for the riverboat gambling currently offered, as well as the single licensed land-based casino in French Lick. Whether or not a Native American tribe may offer “Class III gaming,” i.e. slots, video poker, table games, etc., under auspices of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatroy Act (IGRA) of 1988 has yet to be hashed out (see directly below for details).
A new casino resort – and the first in the state to be run by a Native American tribe – is on track to be opened in Indiana by 2020 or so, with one legal hurdle remaining as of this writing.
Thanks to the existence of the French Lick casino resort, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians got a provision included in a 2015 law to allow for the establishment of a casino in the South Bend area. As of January 2017, the Pokagon were working on the negotiation of a compact which would allow Class III gaming at the proposed casino.
Given the steady expansion of casino-style gambling in Indiana in the 21st century, we expect the South Bend casino, to be named the Four Winds Casino South Bend, to proceed as planned.