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Column: Indiana needs to go all-in on gambling


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INDIANAPOLIS — I’ve recently been trying to get my arms around gaming here in Indiana. After Nevada and New Jersey, Indiana is one of biggest gaming states in the country.

According to some of the most recent data for 2012, Indiana casinos took in more than $2.7 billion in gaming revenue, sent more than $829 million in taxes to state government and paid more than $450 million in wages to nearly 14,000 people.

After sales, personal and corporate income taxes, gaming revenue is the next big source of revenue for the state. That’s a lot of betting.

With that said, I am always somewhat taken back by the hesitation to “expand” gambling in the state. Gov. Mike Pence says he doesn’t want to expand gaming in the state, but I need to remind my good friend and his staff that Indiana is already in, and it’s time to go all in.

Say what? You might be saying to yourself, “Abdul, we already have 11 casinos, two race tracks, the lottery all over TV, scratch-offs at every grocery store and gas station and pull tabs in fraternal clubs, what more do you want?!”

Apart from a casino in downtown Indianapolis, I just want folks to be honest and not only admit that we are a gaming state but embrace it and kick it up a notch.

Indiana already faces increasing competition from Ohio and Illinois. Last week, the Kentucky Lottery Board approved bringing keno (it’s like bingo on steroids) and an Internet-based lottery to the state.

Michigan’s casino industry is struggling, and there’s a push to expand gaming in Missouri. So with Indiana’s neighbors looking to increase their gaming revenue, Indiana needs to ante up.

What exactly does that mean?

Well, for one thing, just go ahead and put live dealers at tables at horse track casinos instead of electronic machines. I can assure you a lot of people are a lot more likely to stick around the poker table with a very handsome or attractive dealer working than some machine.

Also, every county should be issued a certain number of gaming licenses based on population to have mini-casinos. And if the county doesn’t want them, it should be able to lease those licenses to another county. And of course, it’s time to put the mother of all casinos in downtown Indianapolis and be done with it.

And for those of you who don’t like gaming, you have a very simple option at your disposal: Don’t participate.

Now, of course, for all this to work, the gaming industry will have to get its act together. Part of the problem with gaming in Indiana is that the numerous factions and interests spend too much time trying undermine and shoot each other instead of trying to figure out how to grow the pie so everyone can win.

And we can always dedicate more funds from the increased revenue toward addiction and treatment.

But the days of this half-you-know-what, piecemeal, tinker around the edges approach to gaming just needs to stop and Indiana needs to ante up, expand gaming and move on.

Gentlemen, place your bets!

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at abdul@indypolitics.org.

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