Listen Live

(INDIANAPOLIS) – Legalized sports betting and a new casino in Terre Haute have cleared their first hurdle at the statehouse.

The Senate Public Policy Committee has unanimously approved the bill moving a Gary casino license downstate and setting rules for sports betting. Chairman Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) calls it the biggest gambling bill since Indiana legalized casinos.

The bill would allow casinos to offer sports wagering, in person or via smartphone for preregistered gamblers. The Indiana Gaming Commission would decide which pro or college sports or events are eligible for bets — the only sports explicitly off-limits are high school games and professional e-sports.

Colts and IndyCar executives appeared at the statehouse to endorse the proposal. Mark Miles, C-E-O of IndyCar parent Hulman and Company, says the opportunity to bet on races, even in progress, will juice interest in the sport. He says it’ll take your backyard Indy 500 pool to another level.

The N-B-A, P-G-A and Major League Baseball are teaming up to make sure legislators keep provisions they say are essential to heading off game-fixing scandals. The bill authored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) includes those provisions, with the commission required to authorize “prop bets” on in-game events, and empowered to pull the plug on betting if there’s evidence of suspicious activity.

The Casino Association of Indiana began pursuing sports wagering after a U-S Supreme Court ruling last year struck down a federal law prohibiting it. But president Matt Bell says a provision requiring casinos to use official league data to set odds and settle bets gives an unfair monopoly to the very leagues which fought to preserve the ban. P-G-A Tour senior vice president Andy Levinson says anyone can tell the final score of a game, but there’s got to be an agreed-on official source for bets like how many yards a running back gained.

Along with sports betting, the bill would let the racetrack casinos in Anderson and Shelby County offer table games immediately instead of waiting two more years. And the bill relocates the two Gary licenses held by Majestic Star Casino, moving one to Terre Haute and the other off Gary’s lakefront to just off I-80/94. Mayors of both cities say the bill would be a major economic development boost. Terre Haute’s Duke Bennett says the casino would make his city a destination, including for gamblers across the Illinois line. And Gary’s Karen Freeman-Wilson says clearing the casinos off the lakefront would open Gary’s Buffington Harbor for a ship-and-rail intermodal freight terminal.

The only significant opposition in the committee came from city officials in neighboring Hammond and East Chicago, which fear moving Gary’s casino to a prime location just off the interstate will damage their own casinos. The bill already includes compensation to address similar concerns at Evansville and French Lick, and Messmer is pledging to add a provision to address Lake County’s concerns as well.

The bill still has to pass the Senate Appropriations Committee before going to the full Senate and then the House.

(Photo: lucadp/Thinkstock)