1/22/2019 6:21:00 PM EDITORIAL: Gary casino bill equates to legalized extortion
Times of Northwest Indiana
Legalized extortion would pump good money into the hands of government managers who've presided over far too many fiscal scandals if a bill pending in the Indiana Legislature becomes law.
We respect Indiana Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, and believe he has brought a new energy to the Legislature in his first three legislative sessions.
But his new bill pertaining to Gary casino licenses, Senate Bill 636, contains key points that should disturb all lawmakers.
The bill authorizes the owner of the Majestic Star casinos to relocate one of its two facilities in Gary to a land-based site in the city. We don't argue with this idea, particularly if it helps the large business entity to thrive and continue employing Region residents.
The bill also would allow for a second Gary casino license to be sold, moving that casino to another part of the state. There's also nothing wrong with this proposal.
But a litany of other points in the bill should be sounding alarms throughout the Region and other parts of the state.
The second license — held by a private company — could be sold only if it's used to operate a casino at least 100 miles away from Gary. This unfairly means Hammond, Portage or any other city within the 100-mile radius expressing interest in obtaining it would be barred from doing so.
A to-be-determined share of the proceeds from a second license sale would be paid equally to the city of Gary, the Gary Port Authority and a new Greater Gary Community Foundation. This amounts to extortion, forcing private proceeds to be paid to a city government plagued by fiscal mismanagement and scandal.
Gary city government also would be entitled to 20 percent of the 100-mile-away casino's adjusted gross receipts for the first 20 years following the license sale. This amounts to two decades of legalized extortion.
What lawmaker in their right mind would find fairness or propriety in a 20-year payment plan for a facility operating 100 miles away from Gary?
Now we all must consider the entity to which this money would be funneled.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has essentially been serving as the CEO of one of the most fiscally troubled public entities, plagued by scandals both past and present.
Just in the past year:
State auditors have taken the city to task for improperly siphoning millions of dollars from an emergency services account to make payroll and cover other expenses — all without proper authorizations by the city council.
The city hired a politically connected accountant with a past felony rape conviction to probe the spending irregularities and supposedly put the city back on the right track.
Freeman-Wilson pushed for the sale of the city's public-safety building in a half-baked, questionable scheme in which the city would lease the building back and supposedly generate emergency revenue. In short, it was government by shell game.
The controller for the city's bus service resigned in September, the same day The Times contacted him for comment on an Indiana attorney general's order to obey a state auditing agency's subpoena for 2017 financial records.
It was revealed the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority overstated its cash balance at the end of 2017 by nearly $650,000. That authority is overseen by a seven-member board, four of whom are appointed by the mayor.
On Wednesday, a former Gary information technology worker was convicted in federal court of stealing 1,398 city iPads and other computer equipment.
In the midst of scandal after financial scandal, Gary's mayor and other leaders haven't shown the ability to exert control.
It's inconceivable that the Legislature as a whole would review the proven financial scandals, incompetence and corruption permeating Gary and allow for such a law to be passed without an overhaul of amendments.
Let a casino move to a land-based facility in Gary. Allow the other license to be sold.
But in its current form, this bill shouldn't have been submitted to the Legislature. It certainly shouldn’t be passed into law.