INDIANAPOLIS — A ripple of surprise floated through the Indiana House when state Rep. Todd Huston touched the red "no" button to vote against this year's gaming legislation that, among other provisions, authorizes the relocation of Gary's Majestic Star casinos to a land-based site adjacent to the Borman Expressway.
Huston, R-Fishers, wasn't alone. Altogether, 36 of the 100 state representatives, both Republicans and Democrats, opposed House Enrolled Act 1015 on Wednesday night. There also were 12 "no" votes in the 50-member Senate.
But Huston's vote, the last cast on the measure, stood out because Huston was the primary sponsor of the proposal.
In the preceding days, Huston had spent countless hours negotiating with representatives and senators of both political parties trying to find the right mix of gaming components that would benefit the state, Hoosier communities and could win majority support in each chamber.
They seemed to have found it with the Gary casino move, legalized sports wagering including on mobile devices, a new Terre Haute casino, live dealers at the central Indiana horse track casinos and various gaming tax changes.
However, when it came time for Huston to register his personal opinion on the measure, he found that he just couldn't support it.
"Holistically, it became a little much for me," Huston said.
Huston specifically objected to the various "hold-harmless" protections in the proposal aimed at ensuring that gaming industry changes prompted by the legislation will not negatively impact the gaming tax revenue of various casino communities across the state.
"I understand why communities want it. I respect that," Huston said.
At the same time, he said it's impossible to predict today what might happen to, for example, East Chicago's gaming tax revenue three years from when a new Gary casino is operating, as well as whether the new Gary casino solely is responsible for any decline.
In the end, Huston said that wasn't enough for him to decide to outright kill the legislation by not calling for a final chamber vote, as was his right as the sponsor.
Though he acknowledged that under different circumstances that might have been a possibility — if both Republicans and Democrats weren't counting on him to move the measure.
"There's nothing in the bill that I can't defend and I understand the public policy of it," he said. "I had some concerns about the long-term impacts of some of the provisions, but our caucus and their caucus both felt like this was the best gaming policy, and I wanted to make sure that I advocated for that.
"It was the will of the caucus," he added.
Huston said he likes that the legislation finally eliminates the two Gary casino licenses, which currently are marketed as a single gaming entity, in favor of actually turning the Majestic Star into a single casino in one building, instead of two connected boats on the lakefront.
He's also pleased that the measure includes what he described as a "fair" process for bringing casino gaming to Terre Haute, including a Vigo County voter referendum and a comprehensive evaluation of potential operators by the Indiana Gaming Commission.
"It's a big economic development opportunity for Gary. It's a big economic development for Terre Haute. I'm happy for them. I'm happy for that," Huston said.
"For me personally, the right decision was the vote I cast."
As for whether his vote might have changed to "yes" if it were needed to hit the 51-vote threshold for passage, Huston said with a smile, "We'll never know."
"It passed with overwhelming support, so they didn't need my vote," he said.
The only vote that now matters belongs to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.
When he receives the enrolled copy of the legislation, the governor will have seven days to decide whether to sign it into law, permit it to become law without his signature, or issue a rare veto that can be overriden by the General Assembly with the same simple majority that was needed to approve the proposal in the first place.