Indiana’s casino operators ask state lawmakers for help

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INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 25, 2014) - Indiana’s casino operators say they have never faced more competition.

Already new facilities in Ohio are having a big impact, according to our state’s casino operators, who came before a study committee at the Statehouse on Thursday to ask lawmakers for help.

“The past several years have been quite different (with) declining revenues, lost jobs and competition,” said Jim Brown, president and COO of Centaur Gaming, which operates Indiana’s two race-track casinos, Hoosier Park and Indiana Grand.

“The state must provide the industry with the tools it need to survive and succeed,” Brown told lawmakers, who were also presented numbers showing racino and riverboat revenues that were down every year since 2011.

“All we’re looking for are all the tools to compete,” said Rising Star general manager Steven Jimenez.

Still, different casinos want different changes to the law.

“You can do some things that some people will like (but) others won’t,” said State Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, chair of the public policy committee.

For instance, riverboat casinos and those up north on the lake want to move to dry land, while the race-track casinos want live table games, a move that got nixed by lawmakers last year.

“We were really disappointed last year because it (could have) meant 600 new jobs in our community,” said Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson.

“The point of today is to prove that there is something that finally needs to be done,” said Dermody. “You have to take the diverse group of opinions and put those together and see what makes sense for the industry and obviously from the state’s perspective, because when you get down to it, we’re talking about revenue and we’re talking about jobs.”

“The legislature overall is supportive of the casino industry,” said State Sen. Phil Boots, who authored casino legislation in 2013. “It’s been a great revenue producer for the state (but) we’re now suffering as a result of the increased competition, so I think the legislature is ready to take this on and do what they need to do.”

But Chuck Bovis wants the state to be careful when it comes to gambling--he’s a recovering addict and has now formed a group for problem gamblers.

“Usually it’s a very shame-based disease and people don’t come forward freely,” said Bovis. “With our many gambling venues, we’re going to have a lot of people (who need help)”

The study committee will meet again Oct. 8. They’re hoping to come up with some concrete proposals to take into next year’s legislative session, which starts in January.