EDITORIAL: Indiana must plug leak in casino bucket

2014-01-01T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Indiana must plug leak in casino bucket nwitimes.com
January 01, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Northwest Indiana's casino revenues have put kids through college, rebuilt roads and sewer lines, improved public safety, built a popular baseball stadium, made government buildings more energy-efficient, improved parks and more.

At the state level, casino taxes represent 4 percent of the state's total revenues. Northwest Indiana casino revenues generated half of those taxes.

But those revenues have dwindled in recent years as competition arose in neighboring states.

In the 2013 fiscal year, Indiana's casino taxes were down 10 percent, to $752 million. That's the lowest total since 2002.

In the time since Indiana legalized casinos, the money started flowing for state and local government and competition has been growing on the fringes, in other states.

The expansion of video gambling throughout Illinois, coupled with the emergence of casino gambling in southwest Michigan, has eroded Indiana casino revenues. What once was a sure bet — pocketing money from people outside Indiana — is becoming a law of diminishing returns.

What will bring those visitors back and encourage them to spend their money in Indiana, as opposed to closer to home? That's a big question, and it's now facing the Indiana General Assembly.

The Indiana General Assembly now must determine how to preserve this industry.

In 2013, the legislature offered casinos owners tax relief in exchange for upgrades to their properties.

Previous proposals, such as land-based casinos, have been stonewalled.

State Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, is the new chairman of the House Public Policy Committee. Dermody said he plans to work with industry leaders to see how the state and casinos can benefit each other.

"(We need to) have difficult discussions about how we allow gaming to continue in Indiana and be as competitive as possible," Dermody said recently. "Because one thing I think for sure, just doing nothing, we're not going to stay at the same level we are now."

He's right. With casinos funding 4 percent of the state's budget as well as aiding the struggling communities in which casinos are located, Indiana lawmakers must either decide to encourage the growth of casino revenues, and how to do so, or count on dwindling future revenues.

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