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2/28/2012 10:47:00 AM
Indiana Downs tells Evansville City Council smoking ban at OTB hurts

Arek Sarkissian II, Evansville Courier & Press City Government Reporter

The City Council on Monday told Indiana Downs General Manager Jon Schuster how his local off-track betting facility could apply for an exemption from a recently passed smoking ban.

Schuster also was advised by City Council members how to overcome the loss the off-track betting parlor could endure from the ban. Indiana Downs entered bankruptcy protection in April.

"So, if in fact, let's say you do not get an exemption and you do have a decrease in income, you could redo your plan, and that would be taken into consideration by the bankruptcy court, can it not?" First Ward Councilman Dan McGinn asked Schuster.

Schuster said the bankruptcy court "could do whatever it wants."

On Feb. 13, the City Council voted 7-2 in favor of a ban that includes bars, private clubs and satellite facilities, but exempts the Casino Aztar gaming floor. Council members said the casino exemption protects badly needed local tax revenue and provides a compromise that garnered enough votes to pass.

That night, the City Council's public works committee heard three hours of public comment from about 40 people before voting on the Aztar exemption 8-1. Officials from Indiana Downs were not present at that meeting. Before the Monday night meeting, council members already had said chances of supporting Indiana Downs were slim.

"Where were you guys?" City Council President Connie Robinson asked Schuster.

"We dropped the ball," Schuster said, adding there was confusion on key dates leading up to the vote.

Schuster said unlike Aztar, his competition is eight miles away at Ellis Park in Kentucky.

The local Indiana Downs facility is at 5480 E. Indiana St.

"We do not consider Casino Aztar as a direct competitor," he said. "We have one competitor and that's Ellis Park."

Schuster guessed that his facility would see a 20 percent decline in revenue from the smoking ban.

"But again, that's only a guess," he said, adding he did not have actual data on hand.

Schuster said his business faced larger problems from possibly losing Kentucky racetrack simulcast coverage.

There was no update available Monday on the progression of the bankruptcy case.

"I know our attorneys are working on it," Schuster said after the meeting, adding Evansville was the "smallest financial player," in tax revenue generated.

Schuster was told his next task is finding a council member willing to sponsor an amendment to the smoking ban. From there, City Council members could discuss the issue and vote. So far, no sponsors have come forward, Schuster said after the meeting.

"We'll continue to have some conversation and figure out what tactics to take," he said. "If we can figure that out, we'll make some approaches, see if we get lucky and get a sponsor."

Related Stories:
• Hoosier Park parent company poised to bid on Shelbyville casino, racetrack
• EDITORIAL: Now's the time to enact smoking ban
• Passage of Indiana smoking ban bill may not extinguish fight
• Evansville passes smoking ban scheduled to start April 1
• EDITORIAL: Smoke ban offers bars opportunity
• Smoking ban opponent Sen. Jean Leising says flawed Indiana bill needs mending
• Casinos will receive exemption for smoking ban because of money

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