Land-based gaming will come to Indiana, with declining overall casino revenues and other factors making such a shift more likely, Indiana Gaming Commission Executive Director Ernest Yelton said Monday.
"Every year it's gaining more and more momentum," Yelton told about 80 people at the monthly meeting of the Gary Chamber of Commerce at the Steel City Buffet & Grill.
Yelton said if land-based gaming is approved, it will be done on a statewide basis, rather than just for Gary. Nevertheless, he pointed out the city's pivotal role in the push, highlighting State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, as the "biggest champion" of the movement.
Successive mayoral administrations in Gary have lobbied to move at least one of the city's two casino licenses inland to a site along the heavily traveled Borman Expressway. Both licenses are presently held by Majestic Star Holdco, which operates Majestic Star I and Majestic Star II at Buffington Harbor on Lake Michigan.
"Because Gary has two licenses, every time you talk about moving something to the Borman, folks in Indianapolis say, 'Well good, we're going to get one of your licenses,'" Yelton said.
He added that's not necessarily the case, as it's not fair to Gary or Majestic Star for other people to make that assumption.
Gary Mayor Karen-Freeman Wilson has made a concerted push to improve the city's relationship with Majestic Star's operators, and that that should lead to good things for Gary, Yelton said.
Yelton also talked about Senate Bill 528, which as originally written would have replaced gaming boats' admissions tax with a gross receipts tax and given casinos a tax break for free play they offer as promotions.
One of the bill's many iterations as it went though changes in and out of committee would have cost Gary about $3.9 million in lost revenue, Yelton said. East Chicago and Lake County also would have seen large losses in revenue.
That was due to provisions that would have ended a "hold harmless" clause where the state made up for localities' losses in admissions tax revenues when gaming boats were allowed to stay permanently at dockside.
The bill's most recent version appears to end the threat of lost local revenues, Yelton said.
Local casino operators showed up in force at Monday's Gary Chamber meeting to hear their chief regulator speak.
Majestic Star Holdco President and CEO Peter Liguori said his two casinos are relieved the current form of Senate Bill 528 will not threaten Gary's revenues.
Casinos also are glad to see some form of tax break for free play they offer customers is moving forward, Ligouri said. Right now, it looks like each casino will be able to dish out up to $2 million in free play per year without being taxed on the amount.
Ligouri said that's not close to what casinos give out in free play in a year, but it's a start. Nearby Ohio does not tax free play.
"It's not a huge amount," Ligouri said. "But it is something. It's a benefit where I can move those marketing dollars somewhere else in our operation."