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Indiana lawmakers remain unsettled over allowing live dealers for horse track casino games

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INDIANAPOLIS — The question of whether the two horse track casinos in central Indiana will be allowed to add live dealers for their current electronic table games remained unsettled Monday with little more than a week left in this year's legislative session.

The House and Senate have both voted in favor of proposals that would permit Indiana's riverboat casinos to move onto land near their current sites, but the Senate version wouldn't allow live dealers at the horse track casinos until 2021.

House members in February endorsed the live dealers provision despite the apparent opposition of Republican Gov. Mike Pence on the grounds that he would consider it an expansion of gambling in the state.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, said he expected the House and Senate would work out an agreement before the Legislature's April 29 adjournment deadline.

"Greed kills more deals, but I think we can come to a good compromise before it's all over," he said.

Indiana's casinos have seen big declines in business and the loss of hundreds of jobs in recent years as more gambling options have become available in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.

Both the House and Senate proposals would give the 10 riverboats along Lake Michigan and the Ohio River the option to build new on-land casinos on property near their current locations. Owners of the Evansville and Gary casinos have especially pushed for that change, saying they could build better facilities that could attract more customers.

The two horse track casinos — Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Grand in Shelbyville — say they could attract more gamblers if they were allowed to have live dealers for table games such as blackjack that are now run by computers.

The question of Pence's stance on any casino law changes looms. He consistently has said he isn't seeking to scale back Indiana's casino industry, but hasn't detailed publicly what he considers an expansion. Legislative leaders have said Pence indicated he is against allowing live dealers at the horse track casinos.

Democratic Rep. Terri Austin of Anderson said she didn't understand why the live dealers provision would be regarded as a gambling expansion if no additional table games were being added at the horse track casinos, while allowing the riverboats to move onto land.

Austin said she believed the House proposal helped the most casino sites.

"We focused on the solution for the industry as a whole," she said. "If we are going to start picking and choosing favorites, then I will expect some support to fall off."

The House version included state tax incentives to casinos for building new facilities, including hotels, performance venues and restaurants. The Senate proposal, meanwhile, dropped the construction incentives while calling for creation of a special committee to study the state's tax system for all the casinos.

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