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The Frankenstein-like gambling expansion legislation that includes Indiana sports betting will be dissected Wednesday in the House Committee on Public Policy.
S 552, the omnibus gambling legislation that includes IN sports betting, is scheduled for an initial hearing Wednesday afternoon, according to committee chair Ben Smaltz.
“We’ll hear the bill as written, get input from all the stakeholders and the public on what they think about the gaming bill in its entirety, and use what we learned to make adjustments to the bill if necessary,” Smaltz said. “The first step will be to hear the bill as is, and the following step to work on changes.”
The Indiana legislature is required to be done with its session by April 29, though it often finishes a few days early.
The House also introduced an Indiana sports betting bill this session, H 1363. It went completely ignored before dying when the legislature switched to looking at the other chamber’s bills at the halfway point of the session.
So what chance does IN sports betting have in a House that didn’t give any consideration to its own bill?
Rep. Heath VanNatter, a co-sponsor of H 1363, doesn’t think House inactivity on that bill should be taken as an indication that the chamber isn’t interested in legal sports betting.
“I think the only reason the House didn’t do it is we had a busy first half of the session and we knew the language was moving in the Senate bill,” VanNatter said.
In addition to sports betting, S 552 includes a myriad of other industry issues including allowing multiple casinos to relocate.
The legislation passed easily in the Senate, 38-11, meaning the bill authors found a concoction that worked.
VanNatter said there is no way S 552 passes the House without losing some of the bills attached to it.
“We didn’t realize how big that bill was going to get and what they were going to shove into it. I’m not saying that bill won’t pass, but it’s not going to pass in the current form that it came out of the Senate.”
However, he also warns that removing elements from the bill will shake up stakeholder support, which could doom Indiana sports betting’s prospects this year.
“Everybody is in favor of the bill because there’s something for everybody,” VanNatter said. “But there’s no way it’s all going to stay in so, as soon as some of it drops out, you’re going to have people dropping support of the bill.
“It’s going to be a lot more difficult to pass in the House than in the Senate.”
Smaltz indicated he supports legalizing and regulating sports betting.
With 12 licensed casinos and two racinos, the Indiana casino industry produces the fourth-most tax revenue to the state in the country behind Pennsylvania, New York and Nevada. In 2017, Indiana casinos delivered more than $600 million to the state.
The bill permits casinos, racinos and off-track betting parlors to apply for sports betting licenses.
“I think it’s an easy reach for allowing sports wagering in the casinos,” Smaltz said. “That seems similar to adding any other table or video game.”
The bill would set up mobile wagering for Indiana sports betting, with bettors able to register accounts in-person or through their smartphones.
This is concerning to Smaltz, who contends there are places in Indiana – including his district and Indianapolis – that choose not to have casinos. He expressed interest in hearing what the public thinks about mobile wagering.
“I think that the public has to make the decision on if they want wagering available throughout the four borders of the state of Indiana,” Smaltz said. “I think the answer to that in a lot of places is probably not.”
Alternately, VanNatter, whose district including Kokomo is 50 miles from a casino, sees accessibility to casinos as the reason why mobile wagering is necessary.
“I think we’ve got to have mobile betting too,” VanNatter said. “There’s no way it’s successful without mobile. Very few people drive to the casinos to do it.”