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Holcomb noncommittal on supporting Gary casino moves, legal sports wagering

Gov. Eric Holcomb told reporters Wednesday he hasn't decided whether he'll support gaming legislation permitting the relocation of Gary's casinos and legalizing sports wagering. Senate Bill 552 passed the Senate on Tuesday. It now goes to the House.

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb so far is maintaining a poker face as to whether he supports legislation approved this week by the Indiana Senate to relocate the Gary casinos and legalize sports wagering.

The Republican chief executive told reporters Wednesday he's just beginning to assess the provisions of Senate Bill 552, which now goes to the House, and plans to keep a close watch on it as the measure continues through the legislative process.

"I'll need to take a deep dive into all the details because of how the conversation has expanded and what is all included, and I'll be doing that in the coming days," Holcomb said. "I want to look at every word."

The legislation, which passed the Senate 38-11, permits Gary's Majestic Star casinos to relocate to a new land-based site, likely adjacent to the Borman Expressway, and allows the second Gary gaming license to be used to open a new casino in Terre Haute.

Holcomb said he's mindful that every change in gaming operations and locations affects every other casino in the state, as well as the revenue relied on by the state and local governments to fund a variety of public amenities.

"I'm not opposed to looking at new ways with the existing licenses that are there. But this bill is far beyond just that, and, quite honestly, I need to do a lot more digging before I weigh-in on whether or not I'm for a final version of this bill," Holcomb said.

The Senate-approved measure provides some security to Hammond, East Chicago, Michigan City and LaPorte County through a "hold-harmless" provision that guarantees those entities would suffer no loss of gaming tax revenue for three years following the Gary casino move, which is likely to initially attract players from other Region casinos because of its more accessible location away from Lake Michigan.

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The governor appeared to be more favorably disposed toward legalizing sports wagering, since he said Hoosiers already are betting on professional and college teams through various black market channels.

"It's happening now in Indiana," Holcomb said. "This bill would allow us to capture part of a market that already exists that we don't now."

The gaming legislation also is linked to Senate Bill 66, which establishes a state-city compact to oversee the redevelopment of Gary's Buffington Harbor into an intermodal transportation and warehousing center once the Majestic Star casinos are moved elsewhere.

Holcomb said his continuing efforts to boost Gary won't directly impact his decision on whether to sign the gaming legislation if the proposal advances to his desk.

"However, I am inclined to support Gary and their efforts to flourish, as I am with the rest of the state," he said. "I want to find a solution here and this is on the right track, I believe. This is moving forward."

At the same time, Holcomb cautioned that the proposed water, rail, highway and air connections at Buffington Harbor need to work in tandem with the existing Port of Indiana at Burns Harbor, and not seek to compete with the international shipping terminal.

"And there's a way to do that," Holcomb said. "We've got two months to make sure we get it right."

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