To the point week of 4/5/07


THE INDIANA LEGISLATURE appears to be sending out mixed signals during this session being held in Indianapolis, but whether or not gambling will expand in this state is a central issue as lawmakers continue to meet.

But the mixed signals focus on two pieces of legislation: one bill in the Senate cracks down on illegal gambling places and illegal gambling machines; while another would authorize the placement of slot machines in the two horse racing tracks in Shelbyville and in Anderson.

Indiana adopted a lottery in the late 1980s, saying that the profits from the lottery would fix many of the school funding problems that the state was experiencing. Now Governor Mitch Daniels has pitched the idea of privatizing the lottery – leasing its operation out to a private company – because he says it’s not making any money.

Since the lottery didn’t fix the state’s fiscal problems, riverboat “gaming” came into play, with the state limiting the number of riverboats and holding sole authority on placing them on Lake Michigan and the Ohio River.

Here in Switzerland County, supporters banked on the comments that riverboat gambling complexes would be a boost to rural economies (like this one), and then Switzerland County supporters stood back and watched areas like Evansville and Lawrenceburg automatically get licenses even though they are the most economically viable cities along the Ohio outside of the Louisville complex of Jeffersonville, New Albany, and the others.

Switzerland County did get a license to operate a casino, but the state held firm on conditions, limiting the “cruises” and making sure that the casinos did cruise.

But that apparently didn’t bring enough money in, either, because shortly thereafter the boats were allowed to stay docked and operate with open doors, meaning that gamblers could come and go as they pleased.

That idea worked, because the state looked down and saw casinos and communities getting funds – so much in fact that the state began the process of taking more of the money away from those communities.

The state’s reasoning was in the belief that the communities already had more money than they could possibly use; so more needed to come to the state – because the state needed it.

With the maximum number of casinos operating on Lake Michigan and the Ohio River; the state then saw the need to make even more, and a license was approved to put a casino at French Lick.

More casinos surely means more money, doesn’t it?

Recently the state told casinos that they no longer needed to employ navigation crews for the floating casinos – publicly acknowledging what nearly everyone already knew: the boats weren’t ever going to move, anyway.

As community got jerked around, the casino companies did, too. I can only imagine what it cost to staff a boat with a sailing crew – and then that crew has nothing to do.

Now, with a lottery and riverboats and horse racing tracks; the legislature apparently sees another pot of gold in placing slot machines at those race tracks. Rumor has it that the state will use the revenue from the slot machines to help pay for educational initiatives, such as all day, everyday kindergarten.

But wasn’t the lottery supposed to do that?

And what about casino companies like Belterra who have invested millions of dollars here, only to see the state change the rules and legalize more competition?

As the state debates the slot machine question; it also looks at a piece of legislation that would hire 25 new excise police officers whose job it would be to hunt down and close down illegal gambling operations in the state.

That might range from coordinated poker games to electronic machines in American Legion halls or bars and restaurants. It may stop “Texas Hold ‘Em” poker tournaments being held all over the state. Who knows what will and won’t be allowed.

Apparently the key issue here is not the fundamental support or opposition to gambling; but rather or not the state gets its fair share of the take.

Figure out a way for the state to make a buck, and you might just get to play any sort of game you’d like.

Our governor moved our state to Daylight Savings Time so that we could better compete with other states for economic development. Switzerland County now has a business park that the state has certified as “Shovel Ready” for a company to come here.

Maybe the answer is to stop becoming more and more dependent on gambling money to fuel our state’s economy; and allow those which already exist to continue in a responsible way while taking our energies and our resources and putting them toward more stable and traditional forms of economic development.

The state needs to stop putting all of its economic eggs in one basket and begin to develop a broader picture of how the state can run its economy in the future.

That’s what it needs to do, but will it?

I wouldn’t bet on it.