Friday, February 18, 2005

Slots bill is dead, but other forms of gaming aren't, yet


MUNCIE - Despite a setback for slot machines at horse racing tracks, the Indiana House can take one last shot next week on legalizing pull tabs and video gambling machines in bars, clubs and restaurants.
"This gives us a better opportunity than we had before," said State Rep. Tiny Adams, D-Muncie, who authored pull tab and electronic gaming bills supported by the Indiana Licensed Beverage Association.
The House Public Policy and Veterans Affairs Committee voted down a bill Monday that would have put electronic slot machines at horse racing tracks that also would help fund a new Colts stadium.
State Rep. Jack Lutz, R-Anderson, supported the measure, while State Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, rejected it. Anderson's Hoosier Park would share in the first $27-million yearly going to the horse racing commission.
"This was supposed to be an economic development bill," said Lutz, who supported growing revenue for the horse racing industry.
Lutz said the slot machine bill, like other forms of gambling, could come back as a revenue bill or end up in the biennial budget with the ways and means committee.
Adams said he expected House Republicans to give his bills on pull tabs and electronic gaming a hearing before next week's deadline to get House bills out of committee.
"This will not expand gambling," said Adams. "It just collects taxes from what is already there."
Jim Lutton, a retired city worker who used to play video gaming machines, said that Lucky 13s and 50-50 pull tabs are plentiful in local bars and restaurants.
"They should tax them," Lutton said. "If they don't, the machines should be taken out."
Lou Coulter, a local bar and restaurant owner, was not surprised the House committee rejected slot machines at horse tracks.
"They should look at our package," said Coulter, the past president of the state licensed beverage group.
Conservatively, electronic gaming machines could raise $350-million a year, four or five times the revenue from slot machines at tracks.
Coulter said there was still support among lawmakers for the pull tab and video gaming proposals.
"They have not told us to get lost," he said.
Mike Brown, spokesman for the Indiana Horse Racing and Breeding Coalition, said the decision against slot machines at race tracks was devastating to Indiana's horse industry. He was less sure about the impact it would have on other forms of gaming.
"We feel reasonably certain that the bill failed for all the wrong reasons," said Brown. "We did not hear anyone say they were against horse racing."
Austin made it clear she supported Hoosier Park, but said the bill was "fundamentally flawed and needs significant changes" to make it out of the House.
Among her concerns were a public bidding process that could have allowed companies to operate slot machines at Hoosier Park that might not be compatible with the horse racing industry. Austin also questioned why none of the revenue was earmarked for education.
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