Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Ind. gamblers might soon skip the cruise

By Mike Smith
The Associated Press

        INDIANAPOLIS — Casino operators might win legalized dockside gambling from the General Assembly, but it seems certain they will have to pony up more tax dollars to state and local governments.

        The House Ways and Means Committee voted 14-12 Monday to endorse legislation that would legalize dockside gambling, but it also would raise admissions and wagering taxes by as much as double for some operators.

        Ways and Means Chairman B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said the combination of increased business for the casinos and higher taxes could bring in $450 million a year more in tax revenue.

        “They will make more money, and I think it's time we captured more money for the state and locals,” Mr. Bauer said.

        Casinos paid nearly $334 million in taxes on nearly $1.7 billion in wagering revenue last year. In addition, the casinos paid more than $114 million in admissions taxes.

        The bill would allow riverboat casinos to remain moored rather than make regularly scheduled cruises. That would allow patrons to come and go as they please, something Illinois allows.

        The Casino Association of Indiana has been pushing for the change, saying it is needed to keep the gambling industry in Indiana competitive with Illinois and other Midwestern states.

        The association has cited a study predicting dockside gambling could generate $328 million in new tax revenue over the next two-year budget cycle, even without higher tax rates. The industry has been hoping to capitalize on lawmakers' concerns that they don't have enough money to balance the state's books and still begin new programs.

        But under the bill endorsed Monday, the current 20 percent tax on wagering revenue would be increased in increments up to 40 percent, depending on the amount of adjusted gross receipts for each casino.

        Casinos making $25 million a year or less would be taxed at the same 20 percent rate. But those making $100 million or more would pay 40 percent in taxes.

        The bill would increase the $3 admissions tax to $4 for those casinos that choose to remain dockside. Casinos on Lake Michigan that choose barge operations — which potentially could be much larger casinos — would pay a $5 admissions tax.

        The bill does not allow for barge casino operations on the Ohio River because it is felt those riverboats face less competition.

        Joe Domenico, chairman of the casino association, said the combination in higher taxes would be onerous. He said Indiana already has the highest effective tax rate of any riverboat casino jurisdiction in the nation.


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