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By Lesley Weidenbener
Gov. Mike Pence signed bills Friday that will give tax breaks to casinos and finance improvements at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Pence had expressed concerns initially about both bills but the governor said in separate statements that the laws will be good for important Indiana businesses. The speedway bill means the state will essentially loan the track - the home of the Indy 500 - $100 million to be used to improve the grandstands, add lights and make the facility more accessible to people with disabilities.
It also creates a new revolving loan fund that can be used by other motorsports businesses. Pence said the legislation makes "a state investment that will further economic development in the motorsports industry while also protecting the interests of Hoosier taxpayers." The loan to the IMS will be paid back with a combination of tax revenues collected from the track. They will include the incremental increases in sales and income taxes - meaning the revenues the state collects on top of what it receives now - and from a new $1 per ticket tax. The speedway will also be required to pay $2 million annually toward the loan.
"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has contributed to the life of our state for more than a century, enhancing the global reputation of Indiana," Pence said.
Roughly 23,000 people are directly employed in the state's motorsports industry with an average wage of $63,000, the governor's office said. Thousands more are employed by motorsports-related companies in 91 of Indiana's 92 counties.
The gambling bill provides casinos a tax break for promotional gambling coupons they send to customers. That's meant to help the casinos deal with new gambling operations in Ohio.
Lawmakers considered but eventually rejected proposals to let riverboat casinos rebuild their operations on land and authorize live dealers for table games at horse track casinos. Currently, those casinos use electronic table games. Pence told lawmakers he believed those provisions would expand gambling, something he opposed.
"Recognizing the competitive environment in the gaming industry and its importance to local communities, I signed this legislation to give gaming businesses within our state the tools to compete with surrounding states," Pence said. "I appreciate the opportunity to work with the legislature on this bill and am pleased that it did not include an expansion of gaming."
Lesley Weidenbener is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.