Legislative Leaders Won’t Consider Indiana Online Casino Legalization In 2024

Written By Matthew Kredell on November 29, 2023
Indiana Online Casino Legislation Update

Indiana online casino legalization efforts for 2024 are over before they even began.

Legislative leaders say they won’t consider any gaming bills in the 2024 session following new revelations in an old casino scandal.

Indiana Public Broadcasting reported last week that House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said they would not consider any gaming bills in the upcoming session.

Rep. Ethan Manning previously told PlayUSA of plans to introduce an expansive gaming bill, including online casino legalization.

But those plans appear over after former Rep. Sean Eberhart pled guilty Tuesday to federal corruption charges related to the last major gaming bill Indiana lawmakers passed in 2019.

Matthew Bell, president of the Casino Association of Indiana, told PlayUSA:

“That message has been pretty clearly delivered by the speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tem. Those are two men for whom I have tremendous respect. I think part of what makes them great leaders is their commitment to integrity. They exemplify it in their service and demand it from the men and women in their respective chambers, so I think the events of the last two weeks give them pause. I respect that and respect their decision. It’s a disappointing decision for our industry because I could not have more faith or belief in the integrity and ethics of casino operators in the state of Indiana.”

Current Indiana casinos weren’t part of scandal

Eberhart admitted to accepting a promise of lucrative employment from Spectacle Entertainment in exchange for supporting the 2019 legislation.

The bill was headlined by sports betting, but it also allowed Spectacle Entertainment to move two riverboat casinos to better locations inland.

After a Spectacle executive was charged with making illegal campaign contributions, the Indiana Gaming Association forced Spectacle officials to give up their ownership stakes in Gary and Terre Haute casino projects. Hard Rock International took control of the casinos.

“No operator in the state of Indiana today has been accused of anything illegal or unethical,” Bell said. “These are great companies respected around the world who employ thousands of Hoosiers and generate the fourth-largest stream of revenue in the state.”

But Bell admits that, even though the current casinos did nothing wrong, the Indiana casino industry needs to regain the trust of lawmakers.

“We’re going to work really hard to re-earn the trust of the legislature and demonstrate our commitment to being the most ethical gaming companies in the world,” Bell said.

What online casino legislation was planned for 2024

Sen. Jon Ford, who left office this year, and Manning planned a comprehensive gaming package for 2024 that would have included:

  • Online casino legalization
  • Increased responsible gaming funding and improved measures
  • Restrictions for sports betting advertising
  • Moving poor-performing casinos to better locations

“iGaming was certainly our priority, and as part of that package the industry was suggesting elements of a robust responsible gaming initiative,” Bell said. “I think legislators are eager to see Indiana modernize and commit to a world-class responsible gaming initiative. Those are our primary focuses and will continue to be as we work to regain the trust of the legislature.”

Indiana online casino legislation wasn’t likely to pass

Legislative leaders had already said to expect a quiet legislative session. It’s more difficult to pass legislation in Indiana in even years. Next year will be a short, nonbudget legislative session. The legislature convenes in January and must adjourn by March 14.

It’s also an election year with a crowded gubernatorial field. Given that online casino legislation didn’t even get a committee hearing last session, it wasn’t likely to reach the finish line in 2024 anyway.

“I think it was a longshot to begin with but, after the last few weeks, it’s clear to us that there’s not a path forward in 2024,” Bell said. “Beyond gaming, both leaders had suggested that they are not looking for controversial subjects to be entertained this year. Unless it’s an emergency, they don’t want to address it in 2024.”

Paramount to the casino industry is how long this scandal puts this in the penalty box. Bray told local reporters the scandal fallout could limit gaming legislation for several sessions.

“It taints the statehouse, it diminishes the confidence that people have in the integrity of the statehouse, it causes an awful lot of problems and it makes it particularly difficult to engage in that kind of policy,” Bray said.

The Spectacle Entertainment scandal has already loomed over iGaming efforts for years. Bell hopes the industry can use the year off to reset and move forward beginning in 2025.

“With gaming expansions in Illinois and Kentucky, our industry has to evolve to compete in the marketplace. We’ll continue to educate legislators on the challenges we face and why iGaming helps complement and build on the investments made in our amazing brick-and-mortar properties. I think as legislators continue to see our commitment to integrity, we’ll move forward. But we have a lot of work to do and we intend to do it.”

Photo by Wayne Parry/AP photo
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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