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Holcomb keeping watchful eye on Illinois gaming expansion, marijuana legalization

Holcomb keeping watchful eye on Illinois gaming expansion, marijuana legalization

Gov. Eric Holcomb

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb

Gov. Eric Holcomb is not sweating the potential effects on Indiana posed by a massive expansion of gaming across the state line in Illinois.

In an interview, the Republican chief executive said he's not surprised Illinois lawmakers finally approved six new casinos, including facilities in Chicago and south Cook County, that have been under consideration for more than a decade.

"I mean, this is an uber-competitive industry. It's happening on all our borders, not just in Illinois," Holcomb said. "And obviously we had a productive legislative session, this past session, ourselves."

The Indiana General Assembly in April authorized the relocation of the Majestic Star casinos from Lake Michigan to a land-based site elsewhere in Gary, likely adjacent to the Borman Expressway.

House Enrolled Act 1015 also permits a new casino to open near the Illinois border in Terre Haute, legalizes sports wagering including on mobile devices, allows live dealers at the two central Indiana horse track casinos, and reduces state casino taxes to more closely match Indiana's neighbors.

"We have to make sure that our industry is modernized and firing on all cylinders," Holcomb said.

Asked specifically about the relocated Gary casino, Holcomb said he's confident that it "absolutely" can compete with whatever gets built in Illinois.

"It will be on a perfect thoroughfare, and I predict that we'll exceed expectations as they are right now," Holcomb said.

Likewise, Holcomb is confident that other Region casino operators, and gaming facilities throughout the Hoosier State, will "continue to offer a superior product" that maintains and grows the industry in Indiana.

'A law-and-order state'

At the same time, the Hoosier governor is not pleased that Illinois has chosen to join Michigan, and nine other states, in legalizing recreational marijuana use, since federal law continues to classify the drug as a prohibited controlled substance.

"I'm not convinced that legalization will lead anyone to the promised land," Holcomb said. "I've asked the federal government to enforce the law as it is, and I've let them know that we're a law-and-order state." 

Holcomb said he has no problem with legitimate medical research into the potential health benefits of marijuana.

"We'd be happy to be a partner in that effort so that we are looking at facts, not just trying to run to some honey hole for cash," he said.

But Holcomb warned that so long as marijuana remains banned under federal law, Indiana will continue enforcing its statutes restricting marijuana possession, including for motorists traveling from Illinois and Michigan through Indiana, the "Crossroads of America."

"I have spoken to our Indiana State Police and Superintendent Doug Carter about this very issue," Holcomb said. "He's confident that we have the resources that we need on all of our borders."

As for legal smoking products, on which Illinois lawmakers this month hiked the state's tobacco tax rate by $1 per pack, Holcomb isn't particularly enthusiastic about Indiana continuing to be the destination of choice for Illinois cigarette purchasers.

"I'm not hoping that people make runs or start (smoking) because of a price advantage," he said.


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