Published: January 22, 2023

Matt Bell, president and CEO of the Casino Association of Indiana: Editorial: Online gambling raises concerns

Matt Bell, president and chief executive officer of the Casino Association of Indiana, says the time has come for state lawmakers to clear the way for online gaming.

“I think policymakers have a moment to make a choice,” he told those gathered for a recent legislative conference.

Bell warned that without change, casinos could absolutely anticipate a loss of revenue.

“Will we look at the future of the industry, and allow it to evolve, and allow it to develop new revenue streams, or will we insist that it remain static and see how much of our business is cherry-picked by new developments in Illinois, Kentucky, and improved amenities in Michigan and Ohio?” he said. “I hope that they will look forward.”

The movement toward online gaming is clearly picking up steam.

Rep. Ethan Manning, the Peru Republican who has introduced such legislation in previous sessions, is now chairman of the committee that will consider the bill in the House of Representatives.

Still, the measure faces some significant obstacles, not the least of which might be the opposition of Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray.

Bray said through spokeswoman Molly Fishell that he didn’t expect to see his chamber move forward with an iGaming bill this year.

Fishell told the Indiana Capital Chronicle that Bray cited several factors, including “the significant expansion of our gaming laws over the last four years, the fact that he doesn’t have constituents coming to him requesting iGaming, and that Indiana already ranks fourth in the nation for casino revenue.”

Before they expand that number, lawmakers must make sure they have a plan to help that small percentage of Hoosiers for whom gambling is an addiction. Christina Gray, executive director of the Indiana Council on Problem Gambling, suggested that this more accessible form of betting could well cause that population to grow.

“You don’t have to physically get up and go anywhere,” she told the Indiana Capital Chronicle. “You can just simply get on your phone.”

Her organization estimates that between 4% and 5% of Hoosiers have some problem with gambling, but the experts say few gamblers will admit they have a problem, and even fewer seek professional help.

Lawmakers should take steps to ensure that help is available.

They must also decide on the appropriate level of taxation. Drafts propose a tax rate of between 18% and 19%, but is that the right number?

According to the Indiana Gaming Commission, the state’s 12 casinos raked in $2.5 billion from July 2021 through June 2022. The state collected $700 million of that in taxes.

Spectrum Gaming Group produced a report for the gaming commission concluding that iGaming could generate $1.9 billion in its first three years. Taxing that revenue at a rate that is too low, the report said, could put existing casinos at a disadvantage. The report looked at a tax rate as high as 45%.

Finding the right number will be crucial in making this new form of gambling a success.

The bottom line is there’s no reason to rush. While grabbing a share of those millions in additional gambling revenues might be sorely tempting, the Indiana General Assembly has some significant issues to address before it can make that happen.

Lawmakers should proceed with caution.

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