Saturday, January 27, 2001

No-cruise casino welcomed


Riverboat patrons would come and go as they pleased

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LAWRENCEBURG - Gambling patrons in this Ohio River city soon could step onto the Argosy Casino and plunk down their money for games of chance without ever leaving shore.

        Legislation approved by the Indiana House this week and pending before the Senate would legalize dockside gambling. That means casino riverboats no longer would have to leave shore on mini-cruises, and patrons could come and go at will.

        If approved, the Hoosier state would follow the lead of others. Illinois, for example, legalized riverboat gambling in 1990, then in June 1999 permitted the boats to remain dockside.

        Indiana legalized riverboat gambling in 1993.

        Both states are competing for gamblers in the Lake Michigan area.

        “There definitely is quite a bit of competition, particularly in Northern Indiana,” said gaming analyst Mike Happel of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in New York.

        “It might mean more rev enues to the state of Indiana. The whole idea of forcing a riverboat to cruise is almost a little bit silly. At the end of the day, the customers that do gamble (in Indiana) find it inconvenient.”

        Argosy, about 30 miles west of Cincinnati, had 7.5 million visits last year, the most of the state's 10 riverboat casinos. It posted a gross gaming revenue of $206 million last year, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission.

        Argosy's riverboat leaves the shore nine times a day between 9 a.m. and 3 a.m. Ten gambling trips are made on Fridays and Saturdays, when hours stretch until 5 a.m.

        Gambling hours are lost when patrons are forced to wait for gambling cruises to begin, an annoyance to people like Robert Mazza, 53, of Indianapolis.

        He visits Argosy “once every two weeks” - or “once every two months,” depending on his winning streak. He takes at least two riverboat rides each visit and bets about $400 per venture.

        On Friday, he waited impatiently for 1 p.m. to arrive. He wanted to get on the riverboat, “throw away” $20 on the slot machines and start playing roulette.

        “It's irritating,” he said of the wait. “I don't know what the big deal is. If you're going to legalize gambling in this form, why not have it so people can come and go as they please. It truly would be more convenient.”

        The House bill, approved 57-43 Thursday, must make its way through Indiana's Senate. Senate President Pro-Tem Robert Garton, R-Columbus, said he will assign the bill to a committee by late February or early March.

Debate promises to be heated

        “I think when we first opened the door to gambling in the state of Indiana, we all knew we would be creating a new class of compulsive gamblers,” said House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. “I just don't think many of us knew it would be the state of Indiana itself.”

        Argosy officials are taking a wait-and-see approach.

        In a statement, hotel officials said it “supports the concept of dockside gaming because it is far more convenient to patrons than the current cruising schedule.”

        “Since it is early in Indiana's legislative process and proposals may change,” the statement read, “Argosy is awaiting further developments in the legislature before being able to assess specific legis lation.”

        Jean Libbert, 52, of Lawrenceburg, believes dockside gambling could prove a boon for the casino. On the downside, she said, the convenience of dockside gambling could inspire more people to acquire a gambling addiction.

        But “if you get addicted to gambling, you do it whether it's convenient or not,” she said.

        The Rev. Wayne Haun of Lawrenceburg led the opposition against legalizing casino riverboats here. He has been dreading this proposed legislation.

        “It'll just make (gambling) more accessible,” he said. “What's right is right, and what's wrong is wrong, and I think it's morally wrong. (But) I figured they'd do something like that before the original vote (that allowed casino gambling in Lawrenceburg) was taken.”

        The Indiana Gaming Commission, which regulates the state's riverboat casinos, mandates that all riverboat casinos close for at least three hours a day. Around-the-clock operations will not be permitted, even if dockside gambling is approved, one official said.

       



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