Indiana Lawmaker Prepares Online Casino Gambling Bill

Posted on August 19, 2020 - Last Updated on September 3, 2020

Add Indiana to the states that could consider internet casino gambling legislation in 2021.

Sen. Jon Ford tells PlayIndiana that he is already working on language for an online casino bill.

“With COVID, we’re still at 50% capacity at our casinos,” Ford said. “I have no idea when that might be lifted. If we had iGaming, it would give those casinos a way to drive revenue for them and the state.”

Ford plans to introduce the bill in the new year, though he cautions it is not guaranteed. Indiana has yet to decide on how it will handle the next  legislative session during the coronavirus pandemic.

He indicated discussions among legislators include waiting to start the session until March, limiting the bills to essential policy, and only doing the budget. Any such restrictions could push the iGaming bill back a year.

How Indiana online gambling could look

Ford said he sees online casino gambling in Indiana having a similar structure to sports betting.

Each of the 13 casinos or racinos in Indiana would have the opportunity to get an iGaming license. The Illinois Gaming Commission would provide oversight.

For sports betting, the casinos could partner with up to three mobile providers, creating the potential for 39 skins.

With most of those skins going unused, Ford said he might limit it to two skins for online casinos. But he recognizes that more skins create the potential for more revenue.

He expects the games permitted will be similar to what New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania offer, which is most of what you see on a casino floor.

Ford added that, even if the coronavirus never happened, he would have wanted Indiana to pursue internet casino after seeing neighboring Michigan legalize the activity.

“I think we need to do it because our neighbors to the north will have iGaming soon and we need to look at alternatives to help our casinos,” Ford said.

Online poker may have to wait in Indiana

Ford doesn’t plan to include online poker in the internet casino legislation.

He believes online poker to be more complicated, which could be difficult for legislators to wrap their heads around in a limited time.

“When we get into online poker, there’s pooling and interstate compacts,” Ford said. “That may take more education to inform my colleagues than we’ll have time for next year. They’re still trying to understand in-play bets.”

He said he would be open to including online poker if members embrace it.

“If my colleagues surprise me, we’ll be ready to go with everything,” Ford said.

iGaming could be a difficult sell in conservative state

Getting online sports betting done in Indiana wasn’t easy. House Public Policy Committee Chairman Ben Smaltz stripped mobile wagering from the Senate bill, and the House originally passed the legislation without the online facet before Ford got it put back in.

“When doing sports wagering, there were some folks who didn’t want people to bet online and bet in their home,” Ford said. “There will be some people who think this is a big expansion of gaming in a conservative state. There’s still quite a few people that think that way.”

Smaltz, who remains in the legislature, expressed concern back then that internet casino would be next.

But Ford, who helped get sports betting legislation across the finish line in 2019, believes the success of online sports betting will help him pass the internet casino bill. Indiana surpassed $1 billion in all-time sports betting handle last month.

“I think our success with online sports wagering and the demographics we’re attracting with it show there’s a whole group out there that we’re not touching,” claimed Ford. “There’s a younger demographic that does not like to go to brick-and-mortar casinos, but they’re gambling online anyway. So if we can bring them into a regulated market, it gives casinos the opportunity to market to them and get their business.”

Matthew Kredell Avatar
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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