By The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Sports betting will become legal in Indiana and construction of two new casinos will be allowed in the state under a bill signed by the governor on Wednesday.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb endorsed the bill on his final day to act on the measure approved by lawmakers after they reached a deal in the final hours of this year's state legislative session.
So far this year, Indiana joins Montana and Tennessee in moving to legalize sports wagering after six other states moved quickly following a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing it nationwide last year. An Iowa sports betting bill is awaiting a decision by that state's governor and several other states are considering legalization measures.
Indiana sports wagering could start in September. Bets could be placed by anyone 21 or older at a casino or by mobile devices after a bettor has registered with an Indiana casino.
Holcomb said Indiana's casino industry faced greater competition as neighboring states have legalized more forms of gambling.
"By modernizing our laws, this legislation will spur positive economic growth for our state and for an industry that employs over 11,000 Hoosiers," Holcomb said in a statement. "Additionally, it will bring in new revenue and create hundreds of new jobs — both permanent and in construction."
The Indiana House had voted to permit sports betting only at casino sites as some members argued it would easily allow illegal wagering by minors and set the state up to future attempts for letting traditional casino games like blackjack move online. But Senate sponsors pushed to allow sports wagering through smartphones, arguing that doing otherwise would be an unreasonable limit.
The Indianapolis-based NCAA last week rescinded its policy prohibiting championship events from being held in states that have legalized sports gambling. The ban that previously kept events such as the men's basketball tournament out of Nevada became impractical as legal sports gambling spread to more states.
Indiana's law will allow wagering on collegiate sports, but not on high school or youth sporting events.
The proposal sets a 9.5% tax on sports wagering, but no windfall is expected for the state. A legislative analysis estimates the proposal will bring in about $12 million a year — less than one-tenth of 1% of expected state tax collections.
Another section of the bill allows the two horse track casinos near Indianapolis to have table games such as blackjack with live dealers starting Jan. 1, 2020 — 18 months earlier than allowed under current law.
It also allows the owner of the two Gary casino boats on Lake Michigan to move to a new casino along heavily traveled Interstate 80-94 in the city and sets up the process for opening a casino in the western Indiana city of Terre Haute. Indiana has 11 other existing casinos.
The law requires Spectacle Entertainment, which is buying the two Majestic Star Casino boats in Gary, to spend at least $150 million on a new Gary casino and pay a $20 million state fee for the move. The company has proposed a $300 million project building a new casino and 200-room hotel for Gary.
Some legislators criticized the final package as overly generous for lowering a previous version's requirement of a $100 million fee from Spectacle to build the new Gary casino to $20 million and allowing perhaps $40 million in tax breaks over five years.
Spectacle has sought to transfer a Gary casino license to Terre Haute, but the bill's final version allows any Indiana casino operator to submit a bid to the state gaming commission for the license. Under the law, voters in Vigo County would first have to approve a referendum in the coming year allowing the casino in Terre Haute, and the operator would have to spend a minimum of $100 million on the new facility.
The Indianapolis Star reported in March that Spectacle's CEO treated Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to private jet flights last year as they traveled together for meetings in Colorado and Arizona. The newspaper also found that one of the company's investors helped arrange a Vigo County government contract for GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma's Indianapolis law firm.