austen bell tait

Whitney Downard/CNHI News Indiana

From left, state Rep. Terri Austin, Casino Association of Indiana President Matt Bell and Sara Tait, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, discuss the major changes to gaming in Indiana.

The 2019 legislative session changed Indiana gaming in ways unforeseen over two decades ago, establishing sports betting and allowing licenses to move locations from Gary to Terre Haute.

Sara Tait, the executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, credited a “smooth rollout” of new initiatives to her staff and the implementation of sports betting in other states.

Also, Tait said the gaming commission would likely have a public meeting in Terre Haute to discuss a Vigo County casino.

“We were great beneficiaries of being able to learn from other states and other regulatory jurisdictions were very helpful to us,” Tait said. “We have operators successfully operating in other states who were able to come to us and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s been working in other places.’ ”

Panelists held a breakout session during the 2019 BGD LLC Legislative Conference to discuss policy, focusing on topics, such as gaming, which may come up during the 2020 session.

Indiana passed the gaming bill in the 2019 session, with Illinois passing a similar bill shortly after. Matt Bell, a former legislator and the president of the Casino Association of Indiana, said the two states took “markedly different approaches” to their gaming bills.

“In Indiana, legislators and regulators looked at the industry and said, ‘What market conditions do we have to create in order for this industry to have a future?’ ” Bell said. “In Illinois, a well-intentioned group of legislators said, ‘Hey, here’s how much money we need to fill a hole in the budget and here’s how we’re going to extort it from the gaming industry.”

Bell warned that despite the surge in sports gambling, the activity would ultimately normalize and become part of the larger gaming revenue.

For the immediate impact, Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said she’d seen more foot traffic in Anderson’s Hoosier Park with a broader clientele of younger gamers. But she cautioned that legislators couldn’t assume the work was done when discussing a $500 million industry.

“We can’t just assume that because we’ve done something we’re going to be ok for another decade,” Austin said. “We have to stay on top of this because it’s a major part – believe it or not – it’s a major part of our state’s revenue system.”

Austin called for university leaders to join discussions about collegiate sports better, for protections for Hoosiers addicted to gambling and for mayors interested in gaming to form a coalition.

“We count on that money. Municipalities count on that money. The state counts on that money for economic development,” Austin said. “It’s not just a casino or racino in isolation…. It’s basically integrated throughout Indiana’s economy.”

Vigo County casino

The Gaming Commission set a deadline Monday for applications to operate a new casino in Terre Haute, following an earlier vote to move a license from Gary and the passage of a referendum by Vigo County voters.

The commission received one application, from Spectacle Jack LLC, paying the $50,000 application fee.

“It’s still too early to tell when we might be in a position to take commission action on it,” Tait said, adding that the commission hoped to address the application early in the first quarter of 2020. “We at the gaming commission are very cognizant of the interest in the community to get this project up and running.”

Tait said the gaming commission would likely have a public meeting in Terre Haute to discuss the project.

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