|State Rep. Randy Frye|
(Indianapolis, Ind.) - Indiana lawmakers have approved amendments to a bill that has the potential to heavily impact casino revenues in local communities.
Senate Bill 528 went through a two-hour hearing of the House Public Policy Committee Wednesday morning. The legislation passed the Senate last month, but local lawmakers speculate it will have a harder road to haul in the House.
“We have not won the war, but we won the battle today,” said State Rep. Randy Frye (R-Greensburg), who spoke against the bill.
That proved to be true during the committee hearing as representatives offered a number of amendments. Many of the approved changes gut the bill of its most key provisions: allowing table games at Indiana’s two horse track casinos, land-based gaming near riverboats, and changes to the way casinos are taxed.
Also amended out of the bill Wednesday was a provision to reduce by millions of dollars the amount of casino admissions taxes distributed to cities and counties which Indiana’s casinos call home – such as Lawrenceburg or Ohio County. It would have scrapped a 2002 “hold harmless” promise by the state guaranteeing gaming communities at least $40 million in admissions taxes.
“It was amended pretty severely in our favor,” said Frye, whose district includes riverboats in Rising Sun and Switzerland County.
One part of the SB 528 that remained intact was a $2 million cap for casinos to deduct taxes on free play vouchers offered to gamblers. Currently, the casinos pay taxes on all free play. In Ohio, the four newly-opened casinos can deduct taxes on 100 percent of their free play vouchers.
The bill has been pitched as an aid for Indiana’s casino industry, but Hollywood Casino Lawrenceburg executives have said they don’t support the bill in its current form. Hollywood Casino Director of Operations Ahmed Ahmed addressed Lawrenceburg City Council on the free play tax deduction cap on March 4.
“It’s a cap that would allow much smaller casino properties to benefit slightly, but not greatly,” Ahmed said. “The cap would force us to make a reduction in marketing efforts that we would otherwise undertake.”
Following the amendments, SB 528 passed the committee on a 10-3 vote. However, many of the representatives who voted for it said they may not support the bill if it comes before the full House.
Frye told Eagle 99.3 that he thinks the bill will pass the House the way it is now. He said some changes the bill offers are needed in order to make Indiana’s casinos more competitive with competition sprouting up in neighboring states.
With its passage in the Public Policy Committee, SB 528 is now destined for the House Ways and Means Committee. That hearing is likely to occur next week. The legislation could either die there, or earn passage to the House floor.
Frye said the southeastern part of the state has been very vocal against SB 528 since it passed the Senate in February.
“The bill was amended in the Senate Appropriations Committee and changed radically…,” Frye said. “…As soon as we found out about that, we began to go talk to our communities and they responded. Someone said there were over 40 people here today from our communities along the river. That’s a huge factor in getting the attention of legislators.”
The second-term representative for House District 68 credited Senator Johnny Nugent (R-Lawrenceburg) and Rep. Jud McMillin (R-Brookville) as well.
Frye said he has meetings planned this week and next week with Governor Mike Pence and Lt. Governor Sue Ellsperman to discuss the potential negative impacts of SB 528.
Rep. McMillin issued a statement on SB 528 following the committee hearing.
“Gaming revenues have created numerous opportunities for Southeastern Indiana improving our community services, education system and economic development projects –creating and attracting jobs to our region of the state," he said. “With these available funds, we want to invest them wisely in order to promote future economic development initiatives creating jobs that will lead to a sustainable revenue stream for our local communities.”