Monday, June 24, 2002

Gambling boats can stay docked

Indiana legislature passes new regulations for casinos

By Erica Solvig,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Indiana Legislature ended its special session Sunday after passing new gambling provisions that allow casino riverboats to remain moored and change the way gambling revenue is shared among counties.

        Late Saturday, the Indiana House approved a tax-and-budget bill that addresses the state's budget deficit by restructuring the tax system.

        The Senate had passed the bill — which included the gambling provisions — on Friday. Gov. Frank O'Bannon promised to sign the bill quickly.

Ind. investigates state trooper at casino party
   VEVAY, Ind. — Indiana State Police are investigating the presence of an off-duty trooper at a Belterra casino party during which a lawsuit claims the casino supplied prostitutes for high rollers.

    A review of the trooper's action is part of the Indiana Gaming Commission's investigation of the allegations surrounding the party last summer at the Ohio River casino, said Jack Thar, the commission's executive director.

    The state trooper's presence was mentioned in Belterra's response to a federal lawsuit filed by two women who formerly worked at the casino.

    The sexual harassment lawsuit says eight to 12 prostitutes were brought from California and Louisville to entertain 48 wealthy male guests who had participated in a golf tournament at Belterra.

    The casino has denied that it arranged for any prostitutes and said representatives of the state gambling commission were at the party in Belterra's Celebrity Room.

    “There was an Indiana State Police trooper who was off duty who acts, when he's on duty, as a representative of the Indiana Gaming Commission at the Belterra facility,” Mr. Thar said. “And he was present in the Celebrity Room.”

    Six of the commission's seven members recommended at last month's meeting that the penalties against Belterra include substantial fines and a lengthy probation for the casino, based about 35 miles southwest of Cincinnati.

        The bill allows riverboat casinos that win approval from local governments to remain moored, creating “flexible boarding.” Boats will not be required to leave the docks, giving patrons more access to the casinos.

        The bill does not increase the riverboat admissions tax, which gives $1 each to the state, city and county for every patron, said state Rep. Bob Bischoff, D-Lawrenceburg.

        Indiana legislators also did not approve a new casino in Orange County in this legislation; that provision was in an early draft of the bill.

        Indiana has 10 riverboat casinos, including five on the Ohio River. They employ 16,000 people and had 19.6 million admissions in 2001.

        Some Kentucky state representatives say the new Indiana provisions should have little effect on that state's gambling issues.

        “Obviously, we already are hurt by the casinos,” said Kentucky House Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder. “The boats are not going to hurt us, in my opinion, any more than they were before.”

        Last legislative session, Mr. Callahan sponsored a bill that would have allowed video gambling at race tracks, but the bill did not move beyond committees. The gambling effort was heavily pushed by the state's thoroughbred industry to compete with Indiana and other states with legalized gambling.

        “That's money that doesn't stay in Kentucky,” Mr. Callahan said Sunday. “Kentucky people and Ohio people and whoever else take their money across the border and spend their money somewhere else.”

        “We still have budget problems, we know that,” Mr. O'Bannon said after House members voted 51-45 to approve the sweeping legislation. “But this is a big step to start filling that hole and trying to make sure that we can continue to support education and the other services that are so important in Indiana.”

        Michael Jones, council president for Switzerland County, Ind., where Belterra Casino Resort is docked on the Ohio River, said he's in favor of Indiana gambling boats being docked.

        “Really, there's no reason they would go out if they don't have to,” he said. “By not going out, you don't have to pay fuel costs and things like that.”

        No one from the Tristate's three riverboat casinos - Argosy Casino in Lawrenceburg, the Grand Victoria in Rising Sun and Belterra in Florence - was available for comment on the Indiana bill Sunday evening.

        The bill did make changes to the riverboat wagering tax. It creates a graduated tax-rate structure — ranging from 15 percent to 35 percent — for counties that accept flexible boarding.

        Those that do not have flexible boarding pay a wagering tax of 22.5 percent of adjusted gross receipts.

        Part of the increased revenue — about $33 million annually — will be distributed by the state to those counties that do not have casinos. Counties with casinos will not receive that extra money, said Mr. Bischoff, who voted against the bill because of a 40-cent cigarette tax increase.

        “They'll keep everything — they will not lose any revenue from what they got in the past,” Mr. Bischoff said of counties with casinos. “They can't get any more, but they will not lose any.”

        The Associated Press contributed.

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