Indiana lawmakers took a gamble when they approved the first riverboat casinos 20 years ago. They reaped great winnings for many years, but dwindling receipts are another sign the state’s gambling-revenue dependence must be kept under control.
It’s time for the General Assembly to find new sources to support essential state services before the gambling industry inevitably begs for another break to keep up with increasing competition.
Total tax revenue from casinos in May was down 18 percent over last year. The drop is largely the result of new legislation that allowed the casinos to deduct the coupons they use to attract gamblers, but the revenue decrease, even accounting for that deduction, was almost 6 percent.
In the past year, four Ohio casinos have opened. The new Horseshoe Cincinnati is less than an hour’s drive from the three riverboat casinos in southeast Indiana.
We’ve moved several thousand customers from the Indiana casinos to the Horseshoe, Kevin Kline, general manager of the downtown Cincinnati casino, told WCPO-TV.
That’s what Indiana lawmakers feared when they gave the casinos the latest tax break, which already has amounted to $24.5 million.
The industry also asked for land-based gambling and live dealers at the Anderson and Shelbyville racinos. Those requests were denied this year but will inevitably resurface next year, when declining tax revenue from gambling will make it tougher for the legislators to say no.
Since Indiana amended its constitution to allow gambling, the push to expand has been unending. Once the Hoosier Lottery was established, along with legislation to allow pari-mutuel racing, measures pushed under the banner of job creation and economic development have become a fixture on the legislative agenda. There’s no doubt they’ve produced millions in revenue and created jobs, but the efforts to ensure the tax receipts continue and the jobs are protected have required eliminating more and more of the restrictions originally placed to control the state’s gambling habit. Those restrictions were key to winning support for expansion.
Gov. Mike Pence is a staunch opponent of gambling, so legislation sold as a means of protecting rather than expanding the industry is likely to get more scrutiny than in recent years. But pressure to protect revenue sources has convinced more than one reluctant politician that another tax break or allowing riverboats to remain dockside or allowing slot machines at racetracks doesn’t really constitute an expansion of gambling.
The latest revenue report is another good argument for calling the industry’s bluff. There always will be more competition for gamblers’ business – how much is the General Assembly willing to give for smaller and smaller tax jackpots?