INDIANAPOLIS | The leader of the Indiana Senate is considering how to help Hoosier casinos fight back against competition from other states, especially Illinois.
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said this week he's concerned state tax revenue from casino wagers and admissions is shrinking and he wants the General Assembly to do something about it.
"There is an all-out assault on the system that Indiana has implemented, which was to take other people's money," Long said. "They're out to get it back."
Ten of Indiana's 13 casinos are near the borders of other states, and at Northwest Indiana's five casinos a majority of the gamblers are from Illinois or Michigan.
Long said several tribal casinos have opened recently in Michigan near the Indiana border; Ohio is about to open casinos in Cincinnati, Toledo and two other cities; and Illinois is closer to approving casinos for Chicago and the south suburbs.
"They are going to resolve that (in Illinois), and they are going to build casinos probably one right on the Indiana border, according to my sources," Long said. "So they will be trying not only to keep their residents there but to take some of ours over."
Indiana casino tax revenue from wagers and admissions was down 5.4 percent last year compared with 2008. While gaming taxes remain Indiana's third-largest single revenue source, growth in income and sales tax revenues have reduced the share of gaming taxes to just 4 percent of total state revenue.
Long said gaming needs to be considered one leg of a three-legged state revenue stool and the legislature needs to make sure that leg doesn't go wobbly.
"There's a lot of pressure on us as a very important source of revenue is going down," Long said. "Gaming revenue is under assault right now."
He said the answer is not additional casinos but finding ways to make the state's existing casinos "more competitive."
"That could mean a lot of things, so we'll just have to see what the proposal is," Long said. "Then we'll have to run it past our caucus and see if there's an appetite for doing anything about it."
Attempts to win approval for moving Gary's Majestic Star casinos from Lake Michigan to land have gone nowhere in prior sessions of the General Assembly, often stymied by Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., seeking to protect his city's Horseshoe Casino.
Long said he's more open to a Gary casino deal now that Majestic Star's ownership issues have been resolved, but he warned any plan for gaming changes will need support from the entire Northwest Indiana delegation.
"It's very important for Lake County to have everyone reading off the same page for what they'd like to see for their community, and then we can talk about it," Long said. "There's a lot of what-ifs; we'll just have to see."
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, who sponsored the original enabling legislation for gaming in Indiana and has led the effort for a land-based casino in Gary, said she's heartened by Long's remarks.
"Just the recognition of the surrounding states and their impact on our gaming industry in Indiana, I think that's the first step in terms of trying to move the idea of land-based casinos forward," Rogers said.
She hopes a Gary-specific legislative proposal that includes a land-based casino and a teaching hospital with a trauma center along with other economic development programs will have enough of everything that all region lawmakers will support it.