There was a lot of excitement about Indiana legalizing online casino gambling entering 2021.
Sen. Jon Ford announced that he was working on a bill way back in August and did his first webinar to build momentum.
He had preliminary language done in October. When he filed legislation early in January, he spoke about wanting to have a hearing in his Senate Public Policy Committee by the end of the month.
But the bill never got assigned to his committee and died last week when the Senate deadline passed for bills to advance from committee.
Ford spoke with PlayIndiana about why his bill did not get any consideration this legislative session.
COVID hinders education on online casino
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there were fewer committee session days and less in-person interaction and lobbying in the Indiana legislature.
“I think I underestimated the need for education. A lot of legislatures don’t understand what iGaming is, and a lot thought we already passed it. With COVID and the lack of in-person communication these days, the timing wasn’t right.”
An Indiana casino scandal also distracted from internet gambling, though Ford didn’t think it was a major factor.
“We just did a big gaming bill two years ago, and I think there was some thought that people weren’t ready for another one,” Ford said.
Ford is disappointed the bill wasn’t at least assigned to his committee so he could hold a formal discussion. That was the choice of Senate leadership.
“Leadership was really trying to temper very detailed legislation this session. If you look at the Senate, we had less legislation filed. I think we didn’t know what to expect with COVID.”
Economic need not as high as expected
When Indiana casinos and Ford began discussing internet gambling legislation, casinos were closed by the pandemic. State tax revenue, from the casinos and income taxes, also figured to be severely impacted.
That created a need for new revenue. However, Indiana casino revenue only declined by 7.1% in 2020. Compare that to a 57% drop in New York and a 56% dip in Michigan.
“Going into this, I was kind of hoping casinos could express more of a loss. It’s really hard for them to make the case now because some of them are performing pretty well. I think the shut down actually forced them to look at the properties and focus on efficiencies. Some of them have told me it helped them be more profitable.”
State tax revenues also stabilized, creating a budget surplus.
“We don’t have the budget shortfall we thought we were going to have or what other states are experiencing,” Ford said. “We don’t have a dire need for revenue, which is a good position to be in.”
Next year could be better opportunity for online casino
Ford plans to reintroduce his bill next session, when there should be less distractions.
The legislature hopefully will be back to normal, unencumbered by the pandemic.
And the Indiana Gaming Commission’s investigation into casino executives at Spectacle Entertainment will likely be resolved.
But Ford won’t wait for next year to get started. He said he will continue doing educational webinars to bring his colleagues up to speed on the topic.
Ford helped bring sports betting legislation across the finish line in its second year of discussion in Indiana, and he thinks he can do the same with iGaming.
“It’s not uncommon that bills don’t make it the first year,” Ford said. “With sports wagering, it was the same kind of thing. We introduced language and it didn’t move. So we spent a year educating, came back and it flew through.”