Hoosier Park could grow with live casino games

By Rick Yencer

ANDERSON, IN - Hoosier Park Racing & Casino could soon have live table games like blackjack and roulette  that could mean more jobs, more development and a boom for the growing metro Indy community.

 Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, Senate minority leader, told Muncie-Delaware County Chamber of Commerce members on Friday that changing gaming laws would make racetracks and casinos more competitive with the growing gaming industry in Ohio and Kentucky.

 And Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, surprisingly agreed that lawmakers had to do something  with a projected loss of $150-$300 million to other gaming states.

 "We have done a good job of taking our neighbor's money," said Eckerty.

 Centaur, that owns Hoosier Park off I-69 and is trying to buy Indiana Downs, the racetrack off I-74 in Shelbyville, was among Indiana gaming interests that offered a financial impact and other evidence to change gaming laws during a Senate hearing this week.

 "This is the biggest threat we've ever faced," said Jim Brown, president and chief operating officer for Hoosier Park, during that hearing.

 Since Ohio approved gaming in recent years, new casinos and tracks have popped up in Toledo, Dayton and Cincinnati, that pulls gamblers from Indiana riverboats along the Ohio River and eastern Indiana horse tracks.

 Lanane co-authored the bill that would put game tables at the horse tracks and also allow riverboats to become land based casinos. Another provision would exempt taxes on free play coupons that could cost the state $200 million over the next two years.

 That revenue loss, Lanane said, is what some ""keepers of the money" at the Legislature like Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Nobleville, raising concerns about changing the gaming law. Kenley chairs he powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. But Lanane said the economic impact greatly outweighs doing nothing with more than 300 new jobs projected at Hoosier Park and the possibility of a new hotel.

 Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, was a former gaming commission director, wondered how the state ever did without gaming revenue and said there would be plenty of debate on the issue.. Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, who serves on the House Public Policy Committee, offered no opinion on expanding gaming laws.

 Muncie lawmakers historically opposed gaming and former Indiana Speaker of the House, the late J. Roberts Dailey, even stopped the lottery from being considered until new leaders saw they could not afford the loss of revenue. And efforts to get that horse track in Delaware County never materialized, despite a large horse industry in the community and eastern Indiana.