Future efforts to legalize Indiana online casino will take place without its biggest champion.
Indiana Sen. Jon Ford announced this month that he is resigning from the state legislature effective Oct. 16.
Ford spoke with PlayUSA about his lasting impact in modernizing gaming in Indiana and the chances for online casino legislation passing next year in the state without his support.
Ford took the reins to pass Indiana sports betting
If not for Ford, Indiana residents might have to go into a casino to place sports bets.
In 2019, the House removed online sports betting from the legislation before passing the bill. As the Senate sponsor for sports betting, Ford led the charge to add the online aspect back into the bill in conference committee.
Ford was also instrumental in transforming the brick-and-mortar Indiana casino industry. As part of the sports betting bill, he advocated for relocating two riverboat casinos inland. One went to Terre Haute in his district.
Ford told PlayUSA the gambling expansions he championed are among his biggest accomplishments in his near decade in the legislature.
“It ranks up there. I think we were able to do a lot from legalizing daily fantasy sports to moving casinos inland during my tenure. And I never dreamt sports wagering would be as big as it is. I think those continue to be very positive impacts on Indiana gaming.”
Ford’s effectiveness in passing gaming legislation might have something to do with his new opportunity. Ford will take a leadership role in the trade association Reliable Energy.
Matt Bell founded Real Energy to advocate for the coal industry and other fossil fuel producers in Indiana. Bell worked closely with Ford on gaming legislation as president and CEO of the Casino Association of Indiana.
Bell told PlayUSA:
“Sen. Ford has been an articulate voice and key leader in Indiana’s efforts to modernize its casino gaming environment. Sen. Ford has been at the forefront of critical policy discussions including legalizing daily fantasy sports, introducing mobile sports wagering and locating a casino license in his hometown of Terre Haute. He led the conversation on iGaming and has done a tremendous job of educating his colleagues. The gaming industry is thankful for his leadership and advocacy and wishes him great success in his future endeavors.”
Becoming president of national gaming organization
Ford served as president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) for the past two years.
After Indiana legalized sports betting relatively early among states, he helped his counterparts in other states learn from Indiana’s successes and challenges.
“I’m a huge fan of NCLGS and the format. A national organization run by legislators is very unique and really helped me to learn more about gaming every year. Running an organization like this continued to help me grow as a leader and helped me learn about all aspects of gaming, from horse racing to the modern types of fantasy offered today by PrizePicks.”
With that knowledge, its perhaps surprising that Ford didn’t move into the gaming industry if he wanted to leave the legislature. Ford said that’s still a possibility down the road.
“I imagine I’ll try to stay involved in gaming one way or another because I think there’s a very bright future for gaming in the United States.”
Ford particularly would like to remain part of the responsible gaming discussions. As president of NCLGS, he brought forth a resolution providing guidance on responsible gaming and problem gambling policy.
Why Indiana online casino proved elusive
Ford first introduced Indiana online casino legislation in 2021. Over three years, the bill still hasn’t even gotten out of committee.
He talked about the issues gaining traction for online casino:
“I think the problem in Indiana is very similar to what we’re seeing across the country in that a lot of people have no idea or understanding of what iGaming is, and that includes legislators. So I think for iGaming to move forward in this country, we need to do a better job as an industry explaining what it is. I think a lot of folks thought it would be easy as sports wagering was. But everybody knew what sports betting was about.”
Ford also suggested that brick-and-mortar casinos in Indiana need to make a more unified push for online casino to the legislature and within their communities to gain support.
Future of Indiana online casino efforts
At the NCLGS conference in July, Ford teased a plan he was working on with Rep. Ethan Manning to roll online casino into a larger bill. The legislation also would improve responsible gaming funding, restrict advertising for sports betting operators, increase athlete protections and move poor-performing casinos.
Ford elaborated that with expansions of brick-and-mortar gaming in Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky, some Indiana casinos would perform better if moved inland away from the border.
He said he trusts Manning to carry forward his plan.
“I hope iGaming moves forward in Indiana next year, and I hope a strong responsible gaming package moves forward as part of it,” Ford said.
Ford won’t be in the legislature to see Indiana online casino reach the finish line. But maybe he can get an invite to the celebration if Indiana passes the bill similar to Adam Koenig recently in Kentucky.
Koenig was the architect of the Kentucky sports betting bill. This year, after he left office, Kentucky passed the bill. Active legislators remembered who got the ball rolling and invited Koenig to participate in the Kentucky sports betting launch.
“I obviously would have liked to have gotten it done while I was there, but we’ve got great people who will push the issue forward without me,” Ford said. “The goal is to have a hearing in the House, get it out of the House and get it to the Senate. Then there will be someone to take over and champion it.”