Local officials keep eye on state Riverboat bill


Technically, it’s known as Senate Bill #528, but here in Switzerland County and other counties in Southeastern Indiana with riverboat casino complexes, it’s a piece of legislation that could drastically alter riverboat revenue sharing plans that have been in place since the casinos opened.

Through the diligent work of State Legislators and also county governmental officials, most of the language in the bill that would have been most harmful to Switzerland, Ohio, and Dearborn counties has been removed – but it’s not over yet.

Jon Bond, President of the Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation and one of leaders in the fight to save riverboat revenue sharing funds, said that although the House of Representatives took out nearly all of the language that would have cost the county money; until the legislative session ends at the end of April, any of the language that passed in the Senate version could still be put back into the final bill.

That could come in the form of amendments to the bill as it is discussed on the chamber floor; or it could come when a conference committee consisting of members from the House and Senate meet to take the two different versions of the bill that passed and try and find one single compromise that both chambers could agree on.

The initial bill, as it passed the Senate, would have reduced riverboat revenue sharing dollars coming from Belterra to the county – which in turn shares a portion of those funds with many different county entities – by as much as $2 million per year.

It would have also allowed casinos to build land based casino operations at their current site, basically removing the need for actual riverboats all together. The caveat in that was that casinos had to own the land on which they were building, and construction had to occur on the casino’s “original footprint”, meaning that additional land could not be purchased for that project.

Where that would have hurt Switzerland County is that Belterra leases the land it now sits on, meaning that while competing casinos could build on land, Belterra could not.

On Monday of this week, the state legislature had the opportunity to offer amendments to the bill, but Jon Bond said that nothing happened to directly hurt Switzerland County.

“There was an amendment that basically, at the end of the day, didn’t directly impact us, but indirectly it did,” Jon Bond said. “They basically undid all the stuff in the original bill that replaced the admission tax with that supplemental wagering tax. They took it all back to the way it is now, which is good.”

So what’s left in the bill at this point?

“The graduated tax for the boats that aren’t performing as well is still there in the form of a lower tax rate,” Jon Bond said. “There’s also the investment tax credit that Senator Kenley put in there for improving their facilities.”

Jon Bond said that other changes included a rise in the tax exemption that casinos receive for “promotional play” dollars. Many of the casinos give away coupons and other “free gaming money” to entice patrons to come and visit the casino. In the past, after a certain point the casinos had to pay taxes on that money, even though it wasn’t “real money”.

The bill as it stands now would raise the amount that casinos can give away before being taxed, which allows them to be more aggressive in trying to bring gamers to their casinos.

So it seems as though Switzerland County and other counties with riverboat casinos have dodged a financial bullet at this point, but again, Jon Bond warns that until the legislature closes its session at the end of this month, anything could happen.

“Our biggest concern right now is making sure this thing doesn’t get amended on the floor,” he said.