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Live dealers sticking point in gambling bill

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Riverboat casinos could rebuild on land and a tax break for casino marketing would become permanent under legislation approved by the Senate Thursday.

But the bill, which passed 36-13, doesn’t allow live dealers to man table games at the state’s horse track-based casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville – at least not for five years. And that could be a deal-breaker in the House, which passed a bill that authorized them immediately.

The problem is that adding live dealers back into the legislation could be a deal breaker for Gov. Mike Pence, who opposes anything he considers an “expansion” of gambling. He hasn’t been publicly specific about what that might be but lawmakers say live dealers are a no-go.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said Thursday that would be silly.

He called the use of live dealers simply a “substitution” for the electronic dealers now used at the racinos. Gamblers play games including poker, black jack and roulette on a machine that is set up very much like a traditional table game. In some cases, attendants even monitor the game as if they are dealers, although they never actually handle cards.

The proposal would “replace that computer chip with real live people,” Lanane said. “Hundreds of jobs would be created that way.”

He said pushing those jobs off five years is risky because so much can change between now and then.

Lawmakers are trying to help Indiana’s casinos and racinos, which are losing business to increasing competition in surrounding states. New casinos in Ohio and tavern-based gambling in Illinois has drained away customers and led to reduced revenue for the gambling operations and the state.

Kenley said the revised bill – House Bill 1540 – tries to balance the needs of the entire Indiana gambling industry, which includes nine riverboats casinos, two race-track based casinos and one traditional casino in rural Orange County. And he urged the bill’s passage, saying that even those who oppose gambling need to recognize that it’s an established industry that employs thousands of Hoosiers and is entertainment for about one-third of Indiana residents.

“This is a recognized part of our society and a big revenue producer for our state,” Kenley said. “We have a partnership and an obligation to our consumers to try to make it be what it should be.”

Rep. Tom Dermody, the Republican author of the bill, said through a spokeswoman that he hasn’t decided whether to accept the Senate changes or send the bill to a conference committee to seek a compromise.

The Senate version of the legislation makes permanent a marketing tax break that casinos say helps them compete. But it eliminates a House-approved tax break for construction at casino sites.

The Senate plan also provides some additional funding to help the owners of the French Lick Spring Resort & Casino, which maintains two historic and costly hotels.

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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