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2/21/2013 3:00:00 PM
Battle is on to keep casino revenues

The Indiana State Legislature is considering bills in this session that - if passed - would mean drastic reductions in the amount of riverboat revenues that communities like Switzerland County and Rising Sun would see.

The bill, known as Senate Bill #528, could cost Switzerland County between $2-$3 million if passed - roughly one-third of the money coming to the county currently. Estimates show that the bill would be even more devastating for Rising Sun, which could stand to lose as much as 66-percent of the current revenues.

Jon Bond, President of the Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation, has been working to pull together statistics from communities that currently have casinos in an effort to show lawmakers what the true impact of the legislation could have, and he noted that some delays at the Statehouse may be shedding light on a glimmer of hope - but it's a faint one.

"Our State Senators, Senator Smith and Senator Nugent, along with State Representatives Frye and McMillin have really been working hard to get support to stop this," Jon Bond said. "Right now the danger is in the Senate, where Senators Smith and Nugent are fighting for us and for all other riverboat communities. If it gets to the House, we know that Representatives Frye and McMillin hold leadership positions there and are talking with their fellow legislators. The bill was supposed to be called down on Tuesday, but it didn't, which may tell us that some legislators are having second thoughts. But it could still be called down on Thursday (today) and could be voted on this Monday."

Jon Bond said that at the center of the legislation is the elimination of the Admissions Tax that was put in place when Indiana first approved riverboat casinos. At that time, the casinos were required by state law to cruise, and each cruise lasted approximately two hours. At the end of each cruise, patrons had to leave the boat and then get back on. Each time a person got on the boat, there was a $3 charge, which was first paid by the gamer, but later was paid by the casino companies.

Then, in 2002, the state legislature removed the cruising requirement, saying that casinos could stay docked, which meant that there were no longer two hour cruises, and patrons could stay on the boats as long as they wished.

That meant that the $3 admission fee was essentially moot, but the state told casino communities that it would create a "floor" of those fees, and would subsidize communities up to that funding floor.

Those admission fees mean approximately $2 million per year to Switzerland County; and just over $95,000 a year to Switzerland County Tourism, which is a cut of 40-percent.

There are other elements of the bill that could have a secondary impact on Switzerland County.

The law allows for casinos to move inland and built permanent facilities as long as they remain in the casino's original "footprint" (original land) and that the land is owned by the casino company. It also allows for the current "Racinos" - casinos centered around horse racing tracks in Shelbyville and Anderson - to install table games. Currently they are only allowed to offer slot machines.

All of that, coupled with the development of casino properties in Cincinnati, could mean fewer customers at locations like Belterra and Rising Star, which would again erode revenue sharing dollars.

What can you do to help?

"I talked to some of our partners in the gaming revenue fight about what would be most helpful if folks in the county want to do something," Jon Bond said. "The most helpful thing they can do at this point is contact the Governor's office and make sure his staff knows the importance of the money to our community and the impact of losing it. They log every call they receive through the main switchboard according to its subject matter, so even if they don't feel like they are talking to a decision maker, it is still getting our point across.

"It's probably important to point out to everyone that the Governor is not trying to take our money," Jon Bond continued. "But, if this grab continues, he will be in a position to stop it. Indianapolis is a long way away from almost every casino community, they won't know how important this issue is to the public if the public doesn't tell them."

The phone number for Governor Pence's office is (317) 232-4567. Those concerned can also mail those concerns to: Office of the Governor, Statehouse, Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-2797; and there is an online e-mail submission form at http://www.in.gov/gov/2333.htm.

The battle is on, Switzerland County.

- Pat Lanman





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