The Casino Association of Indiana put a lot of effort into educating lawmakers on the benefits of legalizing online casino prior to this legislative session.
Working with iDEA Growth, UNLV and Sen. Jon Ford, the Association held multiple webinars to answer questions and get lawmakers comfortable with the issue.
And then online casino didn’t get so much as a hearing in the 2022 legislative session.
President and CEO Matt Bell talked about the issues in advancing the internet gaming bill this year in a discussion with PlayIndiana.
“Obviously as an industry it’s disappointing that we didn’t get to move it forward this year,” Bell said. “We think the online space is an important part of our future.”
Roadblocks faced by online casino in 2022
Reps. Ethan Manning and Doug Gutwein, filed House Bill 1356 on Jan. 11. Two weeks later, the bill died when it didn’t leave the House Public Policy Committee by the deadline.
Bell thought the short session was the No. 1 challenge. The Senate Public Policy Committee only met once before the deadline for bills to cross over. The House Public Policy Committee met twice.
He also thought the ongoing Spectacle Entertainment investigation into former gaming operators in Indiana once again hung over the effort.
Ford passed the bill along to the House because Senate leadership didn’t want to tackle it before the investigation concluded.
“I think the specter of those investigations gave legislators pause moving forward with the bill,” Bell said. “There was speculation that there could be further involvement. And, while I think that was false, it had a negative impact on the way the bill was looked at by some legislative leaders. They want to make sure that if there are any other improprieties in the industry, we get that behind us.”
He shouted out Ford, Manning and Rep. Alan Morrison as being legislative leaders for the issue.
“I think that we have a growing number of advocates bodes well for the future,” Bell said.
Changing the mind of one lawmaker
In the House, the bill couldn’t get moving because Rep. Ben Smaltz, the Public Policy Committee chair, has hesitations about mobile gaming. So he never called it for a hearing.
Smaltz removed the mobile aspect from the sports wagering bill when it went through his committee in 2019. Ford was able to add it back in on the Senate side.
But Smaltz did allow the bill to move forward, and Bell thinks he will be more likely to do so for online casino in a full session.
“I think he still has some significant reservations about online gaming. But the one thing I appreciate about Rep. Smaltz, which we saw in the sports wagering debate, is he allowed his caucus to have that discussion rather than insisting on shutting it down. He made it clear he was not supported, and he voted against it because of the mobile part, but he didn’t work to kill it.”
The bill likely will have to go in front of Smaltz’s committee again next year. Bell hopes that he again will allow his colleagues to debate the issue.
“I think we’ll face a similar challenge in trying to get him to authorize iGaming,” Bell said. “But having a chairman who is fair and thorough makes a really big difference.”
Hopes for passing Indiana online casino in 2023
Next year Indiana will have a legislative session running to the end of April. Also, lawmakers will produce a budget.
Revenue bills take a higher priority in budget years. However, Indiana is in the financially enviable position of having $5 billion in reserve. So there’s not the typical financial urgency to create new revenue streams.
Bell said the Indiana Casino Association would continue working with iDEA Growth to educate lawmakers over the next year.
Althought Indiana didn’t push forward with legalizing internet gambling this year, no other state figures to reach the finish line in 2022. Iowa’s bill also failed to get out of committee.
Next year, Indiana could still become a leader of the new wave of states to legalize online casino post-pandemic.
Bell has a long history in Indiana as a state representative and chairman of the Indiana Gaming Commission. He is optimistic about future efforts because he doesn’t hear much push back from lawmakers on the idea of online casino.
“I think largely the objections of the measure are about timing, not the legislation itself,” Bell said. “And that I find positive.”