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November 19, 2017

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Indiana lawmaker throws support to dockside gambling

INDIANAPOLIS -- With time running out on the special session, the fiscal leader in the Indiana Senate said Wednesday that he could support dockside gambling as part of a tax-increase and tax-restructuring compromise.

But Senate Finance Chairman Larry Borst, R-Greenwood, said he would not accept proposals he considers an expansion of gambling, including allowing a casino in Orange County in south-central Indiana or slot-like machines at horse racing venues in central Indiana.

"Gambling is not going to expand as long as this is my bill," Borst said Wednesday evening.

Some lawmakers believe the pro-gambling provisions are key to any compromise that could pass the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-contolled House by midnight Sunday, the deadline for the special session to adjourn.

The Senate was scheduled to vote today on amendments to a tax plan endorsed last week by Borst's committee. Republicans have a 32-18 advantage in the chamber.

Unlike a plan passed in the Democrat-controlled House, the plan before the Senate would not allow dockside gambling -- letting Indiana's 10 riverboat casinos remain permanently docked rather than making regularly scheduled cruises. The change would allow patrons to come and go as they wish.

The plan before the Senate differs from the House proposal in that it would not authorize a casino in Orange County or allow slot machines in central Indiana.

In a closed-door meeting today, Borst plans to present changes for Senate Republicans to consider. If the caucus allows him, he would then present them as amendments to the bill on the Senate floor.

One would eliminate an income tax increase that both parties in the House strongly oppose. It also would shift a lower percentage of school operating costs from local property tax rolls to the state, and provide about $500 million a year for the budget deficit.

The other amendment would legalize dockside gambling and provide about $600 million a year for the budget deficit. The budget relief is less than Gov. Frank O'Bannon and Democrats are seeking, but more than the current Republican bill calls for.

Senators have filed dozens of other amendments, although Borst said only a few would have a chance to pass if his caucus endorses his new proposals.

He said he was not sure they would do so. However, if other pro-gambling provisions were amended into the bill, he would not call the legislation down for a final vote in the Senate.

Whether any plan gets to O'Bannon's desk by midnight Sunday was still in doubt. The Senate did not meet Wednesday so fiscal leaders could continue privately working toward a compromise tax-increase and tax-restructuring plan.

An amendment by Sen. Johnny Nugent, R-Lawrenceburg, would restore the gambling provisions to the tax bill and eliminate an increase in individual income taxes. But it also would retain some of the tax-restructuring provisions endorsed by the Senate Finance Committee.

Nugent and Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, believe the plan would pass the Senate, and that House Ways and Means Chairman B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, could get it through the House without additional changes.

But Nugent and many others predict that in order for pulltabs, dockside gambling or an Orange County casino to win approval, they must come as a package.

"I have been led to believe all along that any gaming that would be passed must have all three elements in it to have the support needed in both houses," Nugent said.