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Deal would allow Indiana sports betting by mobile devices

Posted: 4:55 PM, Apr 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-22 20:55:14Z
Indiana Statehouse.jpg

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Sports betting will be allowed by using mobile devices in Indiana under an expected agreement in the state Legislature on a wide-ranging gambling bill that would also allow construction of new casinos in Terre Haute and Gary.

The Indiana House previously voted to allow sports betting only at casino sites. But bill sponsor Sen. Mark Messmer said Monday that not allowing sports wagering through smartphones would be an unreasonable limit and that House negotiators had agreed to the change.

"If you have sports betting without a mobile app platform, you don't really have a very usable tool," said Messmer, a Republican from Jasper.

Opponents of allowing sports bets by mobile devices call it a significant expansion of gambling that could lead to traditional casino games moving online. The proposed compromise would let the Indiana Gaming Commission issue regulations and start approving casinos for sports wagering beginning July 1.

"They were optimistic they could have rules ready in time for the NFL season," Messmer said. "That's really up to the commission on fast they roll them out and get them into effect."

The compromise is expected to be voted on as early as Tuesday or Wednesday by the House and Senate.

The proposal would also allow the new owner of the Gary casinos to move from casino boats along Lake Michigan to an on-land site along heavily traveled Interstate 80-94 in the city. The compromise legislation also sets up a competitive process to select an operator for a new Terre Haute casino.

Another provision would move up the state's 2021 date for permitting table games with live dealers at the two central Indiana horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville. Messmer said negotiators were still deciding whether to allow the change to begin Jan. 1 or July 1 of 2020.

The proposal would require Spectacle Entertainment, which is buying the two Majestic Star Casino boats in Gary, to spend at least $150 million on a new Gary casino and pay a $20 million state fee for the move. The company has proposed a $300 million project building a new casino and 200-room hotel for Gary.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the compromise would boost the city's economy by moving the casino from a heavily industrial area that could be redeveloped into a cargo hub. She said having a Lake Michigan port, along with nearby railroads and highways, will attract shipping business now going through Chicago.

"Our major objective is to move that casino out of that industrial corridor and onto something that would create more halo investment and create more opportunity for revenue," she said.

Spectacle has sought to transfer a Gary casino license to Terre Haute, but the compromise would allow any Indiana casino operator to submit a bid to the state gaming commission for the license, Messmer said. Under the proposal, voters in Vigo County would first have to approve a referendum next year allowing the casino in Terre Haute, and the operator would have to spend a minimum of $100 million on the new facility.

Spectacle is led by former executives of Centaur Gaming, which sold its horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville last year to Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. The deal was worth $1.7 billion.

The Indianapolis Star recently reported that Spectacle's CEO treated Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to private jet flights last year as they traveled together for meetings in Colorado and Arizona. The newspaper also found that one of the company's investors helped arrange a Vigo County government contract for GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma's Indianapolis law firm.

The proposal sets a 9.5% tax on sports wagering, but no windfall is expected for the state. A legislative analysis estimates the proposal will bring in about $12 million a year. Provisions on sports betting would prohibit wagering by anyone younger than 21 and not allow any bets on high school or youth sporting events.

Republican Rep. Ben Smaltz of Auburn, chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, had the panel adopt language in March banning mobile sports betting. On Monday, he said he anticipated it would likely be allowed in the final vote.

Smaltz said he believed smartphone wagering would easily allow illegal wagering by minors. He said Indiana shouldn't adopt such a law just because other states were doing so after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way last year.

"I think it is ill considered and way too fast," he said.