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home : most recent : statewide implications February 17, 2019


2/1/2019 7:44:00 PM
Indiana legislators, industry experts bet on successful sports betting law

Karen Caffarini, Post-Tribune Correspondent

Much of the betting taking place in the region over this Super Bowl Sunday is probably illegal, but odds are great that won't be the case by next year's big game.

Three bills concerning sports wagering have been introduced in the Legislature in this session, two in the Senate and one in the House, and both an Indiana gaming analyst and a legislator said they're confident a bill in some form will be adopted this year.

What's still a tossup is what the final bill will entail, including whether sports gamers will ever need to step foot into a casino, racino or other registered facility, such as an off-track betting parlor, as casino operators hope.

"I don't know what the bill's specifics will be, but it's clear that a sports wagering law in some form will be passed," Indiana gaming analyst Ed Feigenbaum said.

State Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago agreed.

"If I were a betting man, I'd bet we'll have sports wagering in Indiana," Harris said, adding, "I wouldn't be surprised if it happens this year."

Two bills were introduced last year, one in the House and one in the Senate, and got as far as the Public Policy Committee.

This year both Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, and Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Terre Haute, have again introduced bills specific to sports betting and regulations governing it.

But Feigenbaum, editor of Indiana Gaming Insight, said the key gaming bill for this session to watch is Senate Bill 552, authored by Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper.

"It's been called the kitchen sink bill because it has everything in it pertaining to gaming, including Gary's licenses," Feigenbaum said.

He said the bill bears watching because Messmer is the Senate Majority Floor Leader and a member of the Senate Committee on Public Policy, where the bill will be heard. He also noted that Messmer and Ford are working together on both proposed Senate bills.

In addition to allowing sports betting at riverboats, racinos, a Vigo County casino and satellite facilities, the Messmer bill would allow moving one riverboat license to a different location in Lake County, paving the way for a land-based casino in Gary, and using the other license at a location in Vigo County.

The Messmer bill would also allow bets to be made on mobile devices, provided the users register with and acquire the device from a casino, racino or other facility licensed with the state to conduct sports wagering, ensuring sports bettors step foot in one of these facilities at least once. It would also allow live table games at racetracks this year.

Like the other proposed bills, it would impose initial and annual fees on a licensed operator, and prohibits wagering on e-sports and high school sports.

The Morrison bill also would require all gaming devices to be shipped to a licensed operator, such as a casino, and that individuals using the mobile devices must acquire them from and register with a licensed operator.

However, while Senate Bill 439, authored by Ford, would require patrons to acquire and register mobile sports betting devices from a licensed operator, they would be able to accomplish this either in person at a licensed operator or remotely through technology, meaning they never would have to step foot in a casino or racino.

Both Feigenbaum and Harris believe it would be better to have sports bettors, who may not have stepped foot in a casino, to at least register in one, for various reasons.

"We need to at least try to limit underage bettors," Harris said, pointing out there would be more checks with in-person registering.

Harris said in-person registering could also help the casinos.

"If people come to the casino to register, you can expect them to bring some revenue to the casino. They could get something to eat or drink, for instance," Harris said.

"If they need to register in person it's helpful. You get people into the casino for at least one visit. The casinos are looking to capture that," Feigenbaum said.

He said casinos could extend their rewards programs to sports wagering to capture a younger generation.

Dan Nita, senior vice president and general manager of Horseshoe Hammond Casino, said in Mississippi patrons need to go into a casino to set up a mobile device account, while in New Jersey, they never have to set foot in a casino.

"The state is gauging what will make the most sense," Nita said.

Nita said there are a lot of moving pieces regarding sports gaming in the Legislature. He said he'd be optimistic about the chances of a bill passing if it were a standalone bill.

But Feigenbaum said a broader bill might work in this case.

"Sometimes you want a nice clean bill with one issue you can vote on. On the other hand, if you're less confident of your chances of success, it may be better for it to be wrapped up in something with a better chance of success," Feigenbaum said.

"We'll have a sports betting law that would probably be effective by or on July 1, but it won't be an easy process," Feigenbaum predicted.

"It will be an interesting year for casinos," Harris said.

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