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Internet Gambling Bill Races Through House

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February 24, 2015 — TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – ‪Indiana may be taking baby steps toward Internet gambling.

‪State lawmakers are advancing a measure that allows Hoosiers to legally place bets on horse racing from their computers or phones.

House Bill 1270 doesn’t allow online blackjack or video poker but gamblers could wager on races inside and outside Indiana without ever going to a track or betting facility.

The bill’s author, Rep. Robert Cherry, R-Greenfield, told his colleagues the change is “technical in nature.” He said authorization for what’s called account or advanced deposit wagering was “deleted several years ago by mistake” when the General Assembly strengthened its laws against Internet gambling.

But before that 2005 legislation passed, the General Assembly had never specifically authorized account wagering. State law didn’t speak to the issue at all. However, HB 1270 would explicitly legalize the practice.

The House passed the bill 81-15 on Monday after no debate – prompting an incredulous Speaker Brian Bosma to wonder aloud: “Does everyone understand the content of the bill?”

“Seriously?” Bosma asked when no one but Cherry stepped forward to talk about the legislation. “I’m not sure we understand the content of the bill.”

Thirty other states already authorize account wagering. And so the proposal is not surprising. But in Indiana, nearly any gambling bill is controversial.

In fact, earlier Monday, Bosma had taken another gambling bill off the chamber’s calendar, saying it “needed some work” before the full House should consider it. And Republican Gov. Mike Pence has been adamant against anything he considers an “expansion” of gambling, although he has yet to publicly define the term.

So Monday’s quick passage of HB 1270 – which now moves to the Senate – seemed striking.

John Keeler, general counsel for Centaur, which owns Indiana Downs in Shelbyville and Hoosier Park in Anderson, declined to comment on the bill.

But Cherry said after the vote that thousands of Hoosiers are already using the web to gamble illegally on horse racing through third-party wagering companies. The problem, he said, is that the tracks in Indiana don’t get a cut of the action, even though it drains business from their operations.

HB 1270 not only legalizes the bets but requires the third-party companies to be licensed by the state and pay fees to Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs. That will mean more money for the horse racing industry in Indiana, Cherry said.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said it’s unclear how much more gambling would take place in Indiana if the legislation becomes law. But under the bill, none of the additional spending would be subject to the state’s wagering tax.

Also, account wagering “could potentially exacerbate the decline in taxable wagering” that now takes place at the tracks and the four off-track betting facilities they operate, LSA said.

“The potential impact on revenue from pari-mutuel taxes is indeterminable,” said LSA’s fiscal note.

But Cherry said the state is already losing money because Hoosiers are going through other states or illegal operations to make their bets. He said the bill corrects that problem.

“It will help the Indiana horsemen as well as the state of Indiana as well as the tracks,” Cherry said. “This is the last thing we need to do to make the horse racing tracks competitive.”

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