Monday, May 19, 2014

Star Press Argues Casinos Deserve Study to Solve Financial Troubles

From the Muncie Star-Press:

You can bet that when the state’s third largest income source is in peril, something will be done about it.

Such is the case with Indiana’s gaming industry, which has poured billions into the state’s coffers since the first casinos opened in the mid-1990s. Only sales and income taxes raise more cash for the state. Casino revenue goes toward local schools, municipalities and capital projects among others. It’s an important source of revenue and one the state has come to rely on.

So when Indiana’s gaming industry gets sick, it gets attention, and rightfully so. Indiana lawmakers will form a study committee this summer to tackle the issue and presumably come up with recommendations to put Hoosier gambling facilities on healthy ground. Perhaps literally.

Since casinos have opened in Ohio and Illinois the past couple of years, Indiana casinos have paid the price with fewer customers willing to travel to the state and make a wager at one of the state’s 13 facilities. Indiana casino revenue dropped from a high of $876 million in 2009 to about $752 million in fiscal year 2013, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission. Riverboat revenue is down 7 percent, or $20 million from projections for this year. Revenue is down nearly $300 million from a decade ago.

Indiana’s three casinos along the Ohio River have seen the biggest drop, thanks to a new facility that opened last year in Cincinnati. That should come as no surprise, since people want to check out a new place to wager that’s also closer to home.

The losses also go beyond simple dollars to include jobs. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development reports there were an estimated 12,900 gaming employees in June 2013. That’s the lowest figure since 1998.

The time for arguing that Indiana should put the brakes on needless restrictions in the gaming industry are over. Gambling is not going away, so what Indiana lawmakers need to do is devise a plan to put Indiana’s existing facilities on equal footing with neighboring competition.

One way to do that would be to allow casinos to abandon riverboats (which never leave the dock, anyway) and move inland. There, they could expand and offer the kind of amenities found in the newer facilities. Another would be to allow table gambling in “racinos.”

Indiana lawmakers have been reluctant to go “all in” on gambling, never mind that Indiana ranks third nationally in revenues from this source. We’re not advocating for slot machines to appear in every restaurant, bar or truck stop, as has been proposed in Illinois.

But lawmakers must come up with a plan of action to make the revenue from Indiana’s casinos more consistent, and to stem its decline. Indiana might never see a return to the gravy train days of the last decade, but it’s only smart money to preserve such an important revenue source. Doing so would make everyone a winner.