Online casino gambling appears off the table this legislative session

Inside Indiana Business
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The third time was not a charm for a bill to legalize online casino gambling in Indiana. It failed to gain traction in the Legislature for a third consecutive year despite earlier optimism about its prospects.

House Bill 1536, authored by Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Logansport, would have allowed Hoosiers to play lottery and online casino games on their smartphones, tablets and desktop computers—an option known as iGaming in the casino industry.

But Manning, who chairs the House Public Policy Committee where the bill was assigned, ultimately decided not to schedule it for a committee hearing by the deadline, allowing the legislation to die.

The northern Indiana lawmaker’s new post as committee chair had given some casino supporters hope the bill would advance, but it never happened. Manning did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but several people involved in behind-the-scenes discussions about the bill attributed a confluence of factors to its demise.

Doubts about iGaming’s chances first came in January after Senate President Pro Tempore Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, indicated that his chamber was unlikely to support the measure given that Hoosiers were not clamoring for it along with the fact that the state has just three years ago legalized sports betting.

“When one of the two most powerful people in the legislature says we’re not gonna do it this year, it’s a setback before we’re out of the gate,” said Matt Bell, a registered lobbyist for the casino industry and president of the Casino Association of Indiana.

Manning had still expressed interest in hearing the bill, Bell said, but was further stymied when bar and tavern owners and fraternal organizations insisted that any online casino bill also allow them to install video gambling terminals in their establishments.

Another blow came when a fiscal impact statement from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency concluded online casino revenue would be weaker than what had been projected in a September report from Spectrum Gaming Group on behalf of the Indiana Gaming Commission. The LSA report also concluded that online casino games would take some business away from  brick-and-mortar casinos, contrary to Spectrum’s findings.

“I think what really changed the entire conversation was the horrible fiscal analysis,” said Sen. Jon Ford, who sponsored online casinos bills in two previous sessions and also serves as president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States.

Another factor, Ford believes, is the perception that illegal online casino gambling isn’t happening in Indiana, which he disputes.

“The last time I looked, there are over 3,000 sites, 76 of them targeted just in Indiana for illegal casino gaming,” he said.

Another bill out of consideration this year is House Bill 1335, authored by Rep. Chris Judy, R-Wabash, that would have authorized wagering on video gaming terminals in veteran and fraternal organizations.

It’s unlikely that language from Manning’s or Judy’s bill will bubble back to the surface later this session, given all the complicating factors, but Bell isn’t completely discounting the possibility.

“One should never say never with the Indiana legislature,” Bell said. “They have the opportunity to do many things and to surprise us.”