When you think of gambling in Indiana, does animal fighting come to mind? It doesn’t for me, and I’ll wager the same goes for you.
Of course, these acts are rightfully illegal, and the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) has brought down more than 50 illegal animal gambling rings in the last seven years. In the process, law enforcement and animal control agencies have impounded around 2,000 birds and 20 dogs, all needing food, shelter and veterinary care.
Enter Senate Bill 423, which will provide the IGC additional resources for the costs associated with caring for animals and investigating additional tips on illegal gambling activities.
The new Indiana gambling bill passed through both houses during this year’s legislative session and was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb on April 20. It will become law on July 1.
Indiana Gaming Commission short on resources
“We don’t have the resources,” said IGC General Counsel Dennis Mullen of what is necessary to pursue illegal gambling options such as animal fighting rings.
SB 423 will address that, enabling the commission to focus more efforts on:
- Receiving and following up on tips through the commission’s undercover Gaming Control Unit
- Shutting down the illegal rings, working with local law enforcement where necessary
- Working with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the US Humane Society
Mullen said the commission looks at every tip, which requires a coordinated effort that includes Indiana’s Board of Animal Health, local law enforcement, prosecutors serving search warrants and more.
Organizations such as ASPCA and the Humane Society’s role often go understated, too. They have helped with legal cases, documenting fighting pits, weapons, animals and their housing conditions, in addition to assisting in transporting and caring for victimized animals.
In one example from Wells County in 2022, a 10-hour process took place in broad daylight that resulted in the Humane Society documenting 139 roosters and hens that were saved. Each was transported in its own crate within a horse trailer to an undisclosed location for safety purposes.
Redefining ‘reasonable expenses’
These organizations and other local shelters have fought an uphill battle with impounded animals, all while absorbing the associated costs. It was unsustainable, and change needed to take place.
“I think a lot of it did have to do with how the current law was structured,” Mullen told the Indiana Capital Chronicle. “And one of the reasons that we pursued this change, they were just having a difficult time with the resources in this state.”
The current system allows courts to set bonds for animal care based on reasonable expenses for the case. Reasonable expenses are limited to four categories:
- Medical care
According to Mullen, low-bond situations frequently occur where real costs exceed what the state deemed reasonable to award.
“The greater impact of that is the Indiana Gaming Commission sometimes struggles to find outside agencies that are able to assist or willing to assist due to the cost and risk of impounding these animals,” said Mullen.
The euthanasia discussion
Euthanasia is a topic that makes many people uncomfortable. However, it was a very real part of this discussion around SB 423.
Medical professionals and regulators alike agreed that the regulations around euthanizing an animal were too limiting, even presenting risks to humans and other animals. Many of the chickens and dogs recovered from animal fighting rings lived lives of violence, causing an array of potential liabilities.
The new bill provides veterinarians added discretion to perform humane euthanasia for a number of reasons, including:
- Presenting a threat to other animals or people
- Infection of any disease, particularly deadly ones like avian flu and Exotic Newcastle Disease
- Being in the best interest of an animal due to extreme pain and suffering
Language in the bill also confirms the state’s backing of its doctors’ decisions in oft-contentious cases. Any private professional who performs euthanasia under these conditions receives civil immunity.
Future efforts will grow
Come July 1, Mullen predicts that the increased funding and efforts will also result in more tips and opportunities to go after illegal animal gambling rings.
These rings continue to operate until people make them known. At the end of the day, the IGC looks to shut them down in order to protect people and animals alike.
“My wish is that we never had to work one of these cases,” said IGC Deputy Director Jenny Reske. “The fact that we have to go to the legislature like this is a testament to why we need to be able to do more good.”