INDIANAPOLIS — Governors would have to let the public know about their meetings with gambling interests under an amendment approved Thursday in the Indiana House.
The change was among a handful of amendments to Senate Bill 552, a huge gambling bill. The measure will expand gaming in several ways, including legalizing sports wagering, allowing two Gary casinos to move a single inland site and create a new casino license for Terre Haute. The amendment proposed by Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, would require the governor or anyone in the governor’s office to meet publicly for any matter regarding gaming, with 48-hour public notice of the meeting.
This amendment stems from a 2018 incident, first reported by The Indianapolis Star, in which Gov. Eric Holcomb took a $20,000 plane trip to a Republican Governors Association meeting with and paid for by a casino boss while the gaming legislation was on the line.
“It could be that nothing happened, they just had a pleasant chat and it was all a coincidence,” Bauer said. “Or some of the things being done here are running, in a way, as a possibility of whatever was decided there.”
He noted he thought it peculiar that many changes were made to the bill after news of the plane trip broke, including cutting the fee assessed Gary for moving the casinos to $50 million from the original $100 million to $50 million. He said he didn’t want legislators or the governor go to jail in the future over a gaming matter.
Debate got heated when Rep. Todd Huston, the Fishers Republican and Ways and Means co-chairman who sponsored SB 552 in the House, questioned Bauer about why he was bringing the issue of a governor’s gaming meetings up now. Bauer began to answer by citing “the recent rock-and-roll show you put on in Ways and Means.” But he was then cut off as other members shouted objections. After a brief recess to discuss if Bauer violated House rules against questioning motives, the debate ended.
Nonetheless, the amendment passed 61-28, with Huston voting in favor of the change.
Also added to the bill was a provision to use some gambling revenue generated from the casino at French Lick and West Baden Springs to help maintain the two historic facilities.
Other lawmakers were not as fortunate with passing amendments. Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago, presented amendments to relieve the possible impact on other Region casinos with the Gary casino move with the casino expansion and to fund a long-sought bridge reconstruction in the area. Both failed.
“I represent East Chicago and Gary, which means I have been in the middle of the fun for months,” Harris joked.
Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, offered an amendment to use some of the money received from the taxes on sports bets to pay for injured college athletes’ sports scholarships and also their health insurance if they don’t have any. The amendment was ruled not germane to the bill.
The bill now go to the full House for a vote on Monday.