Legislation that would have allowed Indiana's floating casinos on Lake Michigan and the Ohio River to move inland appeared sunk Tuesday when competing gaming interests led a key lawmaker to withdraw the bill.
Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis and the House sponsor of the Senate casino bill, unexpectedly pulled the measure after the House defeated his amendment to allow inland casinos while approving one to shift some of the tax burden from two central Indiana horse racing tracks with slot machines but not other casinos.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's dead," Crawford said of the Senate bill off the House floor. "I don't want my name attached to anything that's unfair."
Supporters said moving casinos inland, particularly in the Lake County suburbs of East Chicago on Lake Michigan, would make them more accessible and attractive to gamblers and help those operations stave off competition from other states including Ohio, which voted last November to allow four casinos there.
Lake County lawmakers pitched the land-based provisions as a needed bailout for economically ailing Gary, where one of two riverboats in that city might relocate to land alongside heavily traveled Interstates 80-94. Crawford's amendment also would have allowed riverboats in Hammond and East Chicago to relocate anywhere within those cities, and casinos elsewhere could move to land next to their current sites. One Gary casino would remain on Lake Michigan.
"This would have taken us a long step toward surviving," said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary.
Opponents led by House Minority Leader Rep. Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said land-based casinos represented a further expansion of gambling in Indiana.
The horse track tax amendment passed 49-47 before Crawford scuttled the bill altogether. It would shift some tax burden from so-called "racinos" in Anderson and near Shelbyville to the state's horse racing industry.
With Wednesday's deadline for amending bills, the land-based casino measure appeared dead for this session. Brown held out hope it could find a home in another bill.
"We've been very creative in the past," he said.
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