Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

March 22, 2013

Frye works to protect Indiana’s Riverboat Fund guarantee

Rob Cox
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — A presentation by District 67 State Representative Randy Frye (R-Greensburg) has helped convince the Indiana House of Representative to make significant modifications to Senate Bill (SB) 528.

Frye spoke Wednesday before the state’s Public Policy Committee regarding a provision in SB 528. That provision would rescind a requirement in current Indiana law that specifies the state must offset any shortages to Indiana’s Riverboat Fund.

According to Frye’s comments Wednesday, the Riverboat Fund allows communities that don’t have a casino to share in the gambling revenue.

Said Frye, “Before any money is distributed to the casino host communities, $33 million is set aside each year for revenue sharing with Indiana communities that do not have a casino.”

In an interview with the Daily News Friday, Frye added that, if the total taxes collected from the state’s Riverboat and “Racino” operations don’t allow for the full $33 million to be set aside, current law stipulates that the difference must be offset from the state’s general fund.

Frye also stressed that, for 2013, the state estimates total income from Riverboat gaming taxes at $535 million.

“That doesn’t include income from Racino and casinos,” he added. “That fact’s important because it means that Riverboat Fund money isn’t coming from taxpayer pockets; instead, it’s coming out of gambling tax money.”

SB 528, Frye further explained, was written to help Indiana’s current Riverboat and Racino operations be competitive with new competition in other states, especially in Ohio. He clarified that the version of the bill produced by the Senate Tuesday would’ve lowered taxes on Indiana’s gambling operations.

Instead, Frye, working with District 43 Representative Johnny Nugent (R-Lawrenceburg), District 68 Representative Judd McMillin (R-Brookville), and District 33 Representative Bill Davis (R-Portland) changed the tax decreases to tax incentives.

Such incentives, Frye added, include allowing gambling operations to give away $2 million in “free play” chips per year before being taxed on those free chips. Casinos offer free play to regular patrons as a way to entice them to come back, Frye explained.

“Free play vouchers basically give patrons free casino money with which to gamble,” he said. “A casino might give a regular patron a free play voucher for $100 in free chips, for instance, to be used on their next visit. Even though free play money isn’t actually spent by the patron, Indiana still taxes the casino for it.”

Davis, who’s chairman of the House’s Public Policy Committee, wrote the SB 528 amendment, Frye said.

The amendment was added to the House version of the bill Thursday.

Frye characterized Riverboat Fund money as vital to Indiana communities.

“It’s such a big deal to the economic development of the communities I represent and communities like them across the state, that I fought for this amendment as hard as I possibly could,” he said.

He added, “Ripley, Dearborn, Switzerland and Jefferson counties in my district have very little industry. Cuts to the Riverboat Fund would be a huge blow to their budgets. What you’d see, should that money dry up, is that small community agencies that depend on it would dry up as well (Greensburg’s Big Brothers-Big Sisters, New Directions, and Bread of Life, — among others — for example, all depend on the Riverboat Fund).”

Frye also listed a range a projects in the communities he represents that have been funded through Riverboat money.

The City of Lawrenceburg, for example, has used Riverboat Funds to upgrade parks, and numerous city buildings.

“There was also $25 million spent on the U.S. 50 Bridge, none of which came from INDOT,” he added.

Switzerland County, he continued, has used the Riverboat Fund to increase EMS coverage and to expand police and fire services. Switzerland has also upgraded healthcare facilities and increased debt-service assistance to their YMCA. The county has also added a new industrial park and an adult education center, Frye said. They’ve also used the money for school endowments and to pave multiple county roads, almost all of which were gravel prior to the Riverboat Fund.

There remains a chance SB 528 could again be rewritten to its original form Frye stressed.

“The bill will go to the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday,” he explained, “and will then receive a second reading on the House floor the week after that. It could possibly be amended there.”

Should the House bill continue to differ from the Senate version, it would then go to a Conference Committee, Frye explained, which is composed of both House and Senate members.

“If they can’t agree on an identical version,” Frye said, “the entire bill will die. Every bill that’s sent to the governor for signature must be identical between the Senate and House version.”

“We’ll continue to watch and be diligent,” he continued. “If they put this provision back into the bill, we’ll do whatever we can to have it removed again.”

Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011