Grand hopes for Indiana to pass online casino legislation in 2022 didn’t last long.
The House Public Policy Committee did not advance the iGaming bills by Tuesday’s deadline to report bills from committee.
That ends the possibility of online casino taking the standard legislative route. And, while there are ways the Senate could get creative to revive the issue this session, Sen. Jon Ford tells PlayIndiana that the political will isn’t there at this time.
“With this being a short session for us and not a budget session, folks seem to want to wait,” Ford said. “I just think it was really bad timing for us. We’ve got an election year, and we’re projected to have $5 billion in excess revenue. So it’s not a money play. All the timing is not right.”
Indiana 2022 online casino effort dead on arrival
Ford, who helped shepherd sports betting legislation through in 2019, first introduced an online casino bill last year.
As recently as last month at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference, Ford spoke with optimism about getting online casino done this session. He had enlisted the help of iDEA Growth, the Casino Association of Indiana and UNLV to educate lawmakers about the issue with multiple webinars between sessions.
But Ford’s move to have the bill introduced in the House indicated that there was resistance to moving the bill in the Senate. Ford passed his bill along to Reps. Ethan Manning and Doug Gutwein, who filed House Bill 1356 on Jan. 11.
Rep. Alan Morrison also introduced HB 1337 combining the online casino language with other gaming issues. It would have outlawed hold harmless agreements and added legislative appointees to the Indiana Gaming Commission. That bill also died in the Public Policy Committee.
Why online casino bill couldn’t gain any traction
It’s difficult to get any bill through the Indiana legislature in even years due to a short session.
Lawmakers started work on Jan. 4. The bill was introduced at the House deadline of Jan. 11. That only gave it two weeks to get out of committee by the Jan. 25 deadline. Bills then need to cross over to the other chamber by Jan. 31. The session ends March 14.
Rep. Ben Smaltz, who chairs the House Public Policy Committee, removed the online aspect from the sports betting bill when it passed through his committee in 2019. Ford put it back in on the Senate side.
So convincing Smaltz to advance online casino legislation was a long shot.
If the bill had advanced through the committee, Ford believes the House would have passed it. However, it likely wouldn’t have been called for a vote in the Senate.
Ford admitted that even if the House had sent over the bill, Senate leadership wasn’t interested in pursuing it this session.
“I think their preference wasn’t for the bill to be pushed, but bills come over from the House all the time on issues they don’t want to push and they have to deal with them,” Ford said.
Sources tell PlayIndiana that resistance went right up to the top, with Senate President Rodric Bray not wanting to deal with a gaming issue while Spectacle Entertainment scandal remains unresolved.
The issue centers around improprieties by a gaming company in obtaining approvals to build new casinos. Bray wanted no part of online casino legislation last year during the ongoing investigation. And Ford admitted that the scandal still seemed to be on the mind of Senate leadership.
Ford will try again next year
Indiana was the best hope among US states for legalizing online casino in 2022. The activity already is legal in six states. But there hasn’t yet been that push by more states to take the logical step toward allowing online casino gaming coming out of the pandemic.
Indiana could still be at the forefront of that push. Ford says he will continue efforts to educate more colleagues on iGaming in preparation for next session.
According to a study from Global Market Advisors, Indiana will lose out on $75 million in tax revenue by not having a regulated online casino market next year.
“It’s always disappointing when you don’t get legislation moving forward, but I think we had a great year in terms of educating folks about iGaming,” Ford said. I think the industry is clearly going toward iGaming nationally, and as more states start talking about I think it will help us move forward next year.”