PlayUSA’s ‘On The Record:’ Chatting With An Indiana Exec On Sports Betting

Posted By Nicholaus Garcia on November 19, 2019 - Last Updated on March 9, 2021

If you haven’t noticed, Indiana is now part of the sports betting landscape.

But the Hoosier State didn’t just come out of nowhere; it has been part of the discussion from the very beginning.

Way back when, Indiana was one of the first states to try and pass a comprehensive sports betting bill. What the state ended up doing was gifting us the now infamous term, “integrity fee.” That is all in the past. In the present, Indiana tossed down $91.6 million in sports betting handle in its first full month of wagering.

That number says we mean business.

Only focusing on Indiana

I was curious. Not only did I want to know the secret to such success, but I wanted to know what the gatekeepers thought of other states. I reached out to Sara Gonso-Tait, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC), to ask the simple question: “How much joy do you get from watching the chaos in Illinois and Ohio?”

But Gonso-Tait is a professional at every level. She opted to take the high road and declined to comment on IL sports betting and the misguided efforts of Ohio at passing and implement sports betting.

“We have been so busy in the state of Indiana that we are staying in our own lane and focusing on all of the busy things that we have going on right now,” Gonso-Tait said.

“(IGC) had a very aggressive timeline to launch retail sports betting, but we were really surprised that we received a very quick turnaround on mobile betting. So we’ve been busy with other legislative mandates that were in the bill that we are in the process of implementing. In addition, Horshoe South, by the Louisville market, is opening a $90 million land-based casino in the next month. It’s been really busy, but it’s all good.”

It was smart. The last thing you want is a neighboring regulatory body pointing out all your flaws, like failing to decide who should regulate sports betting in Ohio: the Ohio Casino Control Commission, or the Ohio Lottery Commission. Or even worse, failing to figure out that an insanely high tax rate means you cant build a casino in the third-largest city in the country, Chicago.

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Doing our Indiana sports betting homework

The IGC has a long-standing policy that prohibits them from commenting on things that could be construed as “success” or “failures” at casinos, which is understandable. As a regulator, the job is to remain unbias and to, simply, regulate.

Gonso-Tait jokingly called the IGC, “no fun regulators.”

“We don’t get to say anything flashy,” she said.

If I personally had to answer why Indiana sports betting was so successful in its first month, I would credit the gaming commission’s willingness to do their due diligence.

“We in Indiana were great beneficiaries of other states that provided us guidance. We were able to learn from other regulatory jurisdictions that had already rolled this out,” Gonso-Tait said. “Indiana would extend that courtesy. For us, we tried to become experts before the bill passed to try and learn as much about the industry. We also engaged in a whole host of stakeholders and relied on industry experts.”

Some states did their homework before any bills were passed. Indiana relied on intuition and engaged with people directly involved with not only sports betting but the entire gaming industry.

“The IGC had a big stakeholder meeting with everyone from casino operators down to payment processors to people who represent affiliates. But we didn’t stop there. We found it important to meet with local colleges and universities to understand their viewpoints as well as people who represent the problem gambling industry,” she said.

Perhaps that’s Indiana’s secret sauce. Making sure all their homework is done. Making sure they know what a realistic tax rate is, who should regulate the industry and when to ask for advice, all before launch. Perhaps that’s why the sports betting business has started so strong.

But we may never know where the real magic comes from. At least, not for sure. And not from the “no fun” regulators in Indiana.

Nicholaus Garcia Avatar
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Nicholaus Garcia

Nick has had stints in Chicago and Washington, D.C., writing about politics, financial markets, and sports betting. He graduated from Texas Tech University and completed his master's degree in journalism at Columbia College Chicago.

View all posts by Nicholaus Garcia
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