INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s casinos are facing increasing competition from gambling ventures in Michigan and Ohio that could pose a threat to the $900 million in tax revenue the industry generates for the state.
Ohio plans to introduce 17,500 slot machines at the state’s seven horse racing tracks by the middle of next year — including tracks in nearby Toledo and Cincinnati. Michigan continues to add tribal casinos, with more than 20 now in operation, The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reported Sunday.
Revenues for the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, a town on Indiana’s lakeshore, dropped by 30 percent after the opening of a tribal casino in southern Michigan.
The competition from the two states spells a threat to the nearly $900 million a year in tax revenue Indiana receives from casino gambling.
“In some respects we are playing defense, much more than we ever have,” said Mike Smith, president of the Casino Association of Indiana. “The state could wake up one day and find out that $300 million of their revenue is gone.
“It’s time to take a look at how we built this industry and make sure the tools are there to allow us to compete.”
A recent report from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said Indiana’s gambling revenue was up for the year, unlike elsewhere in the nation, largely because of casinos at racetracks near Indianapolis in Anderson and Shelbyville.
An analyst for the agency said the track casinos displaced about $110 million of revenue that otherwise would have been spent at the state’s riverboats. Riverboat gambling generated $766 million in taxes last fiscal year, while the track casinos brought in another $126.6 million.
There is also a resort casino in French Lick, about 100 miles south of Indianapolis.
“Most observers believe that at least in the state of Indiana, the market is saturated,” said Ernest Yelton, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission.
But that hasn’t stopped talk of expanding or moving one of the existing riverboat casinos to Fort Wayne, about 100 miles northeast of Indianapolis near the Ohio border. Bill Thompson, a professor of public administration of the University of Nevada Las Vegas who studies gambling, sees a casino in Fort Wayne as a defensive strategy.
“You have to be mindful that Ohio is ready to open casinos in Toledo, and the Battle Creek casino is reaching into Indiana,” Thompson said. “So Fort Wayne is a defensive move to keep the money from going to Michigan and Ohio, but not a growth area.”
Some people, however, say that could continue a trend away from out-of-state gamblers coming to Indiana to Hoosiers gambling their own money at home.
“We would end up with more Hoosiers gambling, and that’s an important consideration,” said Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne. “It is not going to be like Vegas where they fly in and leave their money.”