House panel approves bills to fund motorsports, racinos

Both bills go to full House

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana would pump $10 million per year into automotive racing, including $5 million per year into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, under measures that won a House panel's approval Tuesday.

After a series of amendments, the House Ways and Means Committee produced a complex and interwoven product made of two bills – one originally intended to help out the Speedway and the other aimed at bolstering Indiana's floundering casino industry.

The result: $10 million in revenue from Indiana's casinos with horse tracks in Anderson and Shelbyville would be taken from a fund that currently supports horse racing and redirected to motorsports, while $3 million in tobacco cessation money would go back to those "racinos."

Half of the motorsports money would go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the form of a no-interest loan that would be repaid not through the speedway's revenues but through new ticket taxes and income and sales taxes collected there.

As soon as they put the deal together, lawmakers admitted it is certain to change between now and the April 29 date that the General Assembly must wrap up its work for the year.

The author of Senate Bill 91, the speedway bill, said he expects the "racino" revenue to be disconnected from motorsports funding – and for legislators to find a way to keep from intermingling it with the casino bill, Senate Bill 528.

"They're just trying to think outside the box – I don't come down on them for that. But gambling money's not going to be the answer to solve economic issues," said Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis.

The bill was a change from what started as an effort to help the Indianapolis Motor Speedway raise $100 million for improvements at the track by bonding and then repaying that money through tax revenue collected in a development zone.

However, that proposal was opposed by tea party groups and others who said the Speedway was getting a massive chunk of cash that would otherwise go into Indiana's general fund without having to do anything itself.

Now, it gives $5 million per year over 20 years to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then has the Speedway repay that money through measures such as a new additional $1 tax on tickets to events such as the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400.

"We think with this proposed amendment speaks not only need and desire to assist IMS but to help all of motorsports across the states, particularly the smaller tracks that run races every weekend," said the amendment's author, Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero.

His proposal was opposed by John Keeler, a lobbyist for Centaur, which owns the "racinos" in Anderson and Shelbyville.

"This amounts to a $200 million tax on the racinos over a period of 20 years. It's highly inappropriate that the racinos should be put in a position to subsidize the motor sports industry," Keeler said. "There's no nexus between the horse racing and the racino industry and motor sports."

Initially, the casino bill included a host of other measures that would have helped locations such as Evansville's Casino Aztar. It would have allowed Aztar to eventually ditch its riverboat and instead rebuild on land it already owns along the Ohio River.

However, after Gov. Mike Pence said he considered such proposals to be expansions of gambling and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, raised concerns as well, those proposals were dropped from the bill.

Both the casino bill and the motorsports bill won the Ways and Means Committee's approval and could see further changes on the full House floor as soon as Wednesday.

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