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Legislative committee backs allowing Indiana riverboat casinos to move onto land sites

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's riverboat casinos would be allowed to move to on-land sites and the state's horse track casinos could have live dealers run table games under recommendations from a legislative committee.

The public policy study committee voted unanimously Thursday to support those changes, along with proposals to offer tax incentives for casinos to build new facilities or renovate their current sites and seek ways to replace the current $3-per-person admission tax the riverboats now pay.

Casino officials have pushed for such changes for several years in the face of increased competition from neighboring states, but have been largely opposed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence and many GOP legislative leaders who worry about an expansion of gambling.

Study committee chairman Rep. Tom Dermody, a LaPorte Republican, said he didn't believe allowing riverboats to move onto property near their existing sites would be a gambling expansion if they were limited to their current number of slot machines and table games.

"We have a situation where the casinos are struggling and we can either sit back and do nothing and watch them continue to decline, or try to help them, just like we would any other industry, become more competitive," Dermody said.

Total state tax revenues from Indiana's casinos fell by $99 million, or about 13 percent, during the fiscal year ending June 30, according to Indiana Gaming Commission reports.

Pence has said he doesn't support allowing Indiana's 10 riverboats along the Ohio River and Lake Michigan to build on-land casinos, but isn't seeking to scale back the industry.

The study committee's vote, however, shows some support for major changes among legislators.

"I think it's the first step in really taking a good interest in the competitiveness of Indiana gaming, and also we're looking to the future of protecting jobs and state revenue in the form of taxes," said Jason Gregorec, the Tropicana Evansville casino's general manger.

The committee's recommendations would allow the two horse track casinos — Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Grand in Shelbyville — to have live dealers for table games such as blackjack that are now run by computers, but not allow them to add more games for two years.

Allowing live dealers would attract gamblers who are wary of games run by computers and boost business, said Jim Brown, president of Centaur Gaming, which owns the Anderson and Shelbyville casinos.

"Our customers have been wanting this for years and it adds jobs," Brown said.

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