Indiana betting bill progresses but faces further hurdles

11 February 2019

A complex gambling bill that includes the introduction of sports betting has been approved by Indiana’s Senate Public Policy Committee, but the legislation is likely to face multiple amendments before the end of the US state’s legislative session in April.

Senate Bill 552 would allow the state’s casinos to place bets on professional and college sports as early as next year.

However, with several other issues bundled into the bill – including applications for a Terre Haute casino licence and a possible inland relocation of the city of Gary’s Lake Michigan casino, there are concerns that complications could lie ahead despite the committee giving their unanimous support.

Senate Public Policy Committee chairman Ron Alting has labelled the bill as representing the biggest overhaul since lawmakers voted in 1993 to allow riverboat casinos on Lake Michigan and the Ohio River, while Republican house speaker Brian Bosma warned that the bill comprises “a very large expansion of gaming”.

However, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Mark Messmer countered: "With no additional licenses and no additional table games, I don’t know how you can call it an expansion of gaming”.

Observers have noted that less complex gambling proposals that have been tabled over the past quarter of a century have either taken years to secure approval or have failed to clear the necessary hurdles.

It emerged late last year that Indiana lawmakers were keen to explore possible sports betting after neighbouring states Illinois, Pennsylvania and West Virginia made their own legislative moves in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning PASPA last May.

Under the bill’s current incarnation, the state’s casinos would be allowed to offer sports betting in person or online to punters who are at least 21 years old. Additionally, live table games would also be allowed at racetracks from as early as this year.

Wagers would not be allowed esports, with betting on high school or youth sports events also prohibited.

A state-commissioned study by research firm Eilers and Kejcik has previously indicated that Indiana could expect consumers to place more than $250m (£195m/€219.5m) in sports wagers each year.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Jon Ford of Terre Haute, said that tax revenue estimates for sports betting would be between $3m and $18m per year.

However, the bill’s supporters have underlined the potential marketing benefits of allowing sports betting for the state’s casinos, which have experienced a downturn in recent years.

The state’s casino tax income fell from $680m in 2010 to $442m last year, official figures have shown.

Moreover, two of the biggest sports properties in the state – the Indianapolis Colts NFL American football team and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which hosts the annual Indy 500 motor-racing event – are among those to support the bill.