LAS VEGAS — In the last year, the Indiana online casino bill died when the House Public Policy Committee chairman declined to give it a hearing. That won’t be a problem in the coming year.
Rep. Ethan Manning, who says he will introduce the Indiana online casino bill in early January, has taken over the committee that is the first stop for all gaming bills.
“We do have one roadblock that we had last year that we don’t have anymore in that we have a new chairman of Public Policy in Indiana, and that is me,” Manning said. “So that certainly does help the efforts as we head into a new legislative session.”
Manning and Sen. Jon Ford, a longtime online casinos advocate in the Hoosier State, recently spoke with PlayIndiana at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) conference in Las Vegas. Ford serves as the current president for NCLGS.
Last Public Policy Committee chairman stood in way
Rep. Ben Smaltz, who chaired the Public Policy Committee in recent years, made it no secret that he opposed online gaming.
In 2019 when the sports betting bill went through his committee, he removed the online aspect. But Ford put online sports betting back into the legislation in the Senate.
Smaltz moved to chair the Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee, opening the door for Manning to take Public Policy. Manning co-sponsored last year’s online casino bill and would have served as primary author if he hadn’t already reached his bill introduction limit.
He cautioned that, even with his support to get the bill through Public Policy, online casino legislation won’t have smooth sailing.
“It still has to go through two committees, so we have Ways and Means for the fiscal side of things even if we were to get it through Public Policy, and the Senate on top of it. So even though I’m in the chairmanship, we still have plenty of challenges.”
Including iLottery could help get governor’s support
In neighboring Michigan, the legislature legalized sports betting, online casino and online lottery at the same time. And the inclusion of iLottery helped gain support from the governor.
Ford and Manning decided to include iLottery legalization with the online casino bill this time with a similar idea in mind.
“If I had to do it over again, I would have had iGaming and sports wagering done at the same time,” Ford said. “I think the executive level will be supportive. They want iLottery. Our research shows iLottery and iGaming are kind of companions. They don’t cannibalize each other.”
Responsible gaming additions to Indiana online casino bill
Ford’s involvement with NCLGS has spurred his interest in improving responsible gaming in Indiana.
In addition to earmarking 3.33% of tax revenue to problem gambling, he’s been working with UNLV on some ideas for improving how the bill addresses problem gambling.
He said he is considering sending money to treat gaming addictions to the Indiana Gaming Commission rather than the Mental Health and Addiction Division.
“I am looking at ways of structurally changing it to make sure we get more research and get more of those dollars to the people who need it,” Ford said. “I think as gaming grows we need to always take that responsibility of providing help to folks because we know, I mean we’re not going to hide from it, that there are people who have issues with problem gaming.”
“Sen. Ford and I are working a lot on responsible gaming as part of this bill. I think that we’ll be able to accurately say it will be the biggest expansion of responsible gaming in Indiana history as we look at both revenue and ways to improve our program.”
What’s next for Indiana online casino efforts
Things move fast in the Indiana legislative session.
Jan. 12 is the deadline for filing House bills. House bills must reach third reading in the House by Feb. 27. The Indiana legislature adjourns by April 29.
The Senate figures to be the more difficult climb. Senate President Rodric Bray wasn’t supportive of the bill last year. However, that may have been due to the Spectacle Entertainment scandal which has now been resolved.
“It’s been a long two years for us,” Ford said. “We had redistricting and other controversial topics, and elections, so I think some of our leaders were pretty nervous about what this would do for their reelection. So, we’ll see. Now that we’ve got past that, I’m optimistic. We’ll try to get some grassroots efforts and hear from constituents whether they want this or not.”
Manning said lawmakers might not have the added incentive to do online casino because the state doesn’t need the money. It has a $6 billion surplus. But he’s always looking for ways to increase revenue to cut taxes.
“It certainly still is a challenge. We have some members who just don’t like gaming period and others who just need to learn about the issue. But as I’ve been having informal conversations with members of my caucus and on the Senate side as well, nobody has told me no yet. So they’ll probably tell me no later, but we will see how things go.”