Mayor Tom Henry addressed the State Gaming Study Committee at the Indiana State House this afternoon.
Unfortunately, he was unable to deliver his remarks in their entirety due to time constraints. Â The Chairman of the Committee asked him not to read his statement as they’d all been given copies. Â Accompanying the Mayor was City Corporate Counsel Tim Haffner. Â Below are his prepared remarks. Â I will post audio and a report of other speakers later this evening.
Statement of Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry before the Gaming Study Committee:
Good afternoon, Chairman Kenley, Chairman Crawford and members of the Gaming Study Committee. Thank you for the chance to speak to you today. As Mayor of the City of Fort Wayne and on behalf of its citizens, I commend you for your leadership on the issue of gaming in Indiana.
I am here today in search of opportunity – the opportunity for new jobs and economic growth. I am here to ask for your recommendation to the Indiana General Assembly in support of a referendum on legalized casino gaming for the people of Fort Wayne.
I am committed to securing a referendum that will allow Fort Wayne residents to make their own decision about gaming – to choose for themselves what is beneficial for our community and what opportunities they want to explore.
I believe an opportunity that can strengthen the economy of Fort Wayne, our region and state, that can bring new jobs, high-quality investment and development, and significant new revenue every year into our community, is one that deserves serious consideration.
If upon your recommendation the General Assembly enacts legislation allowing a referendum on legalized casino gaming in Fort Wayne, if our community chooses to support gaming, and if a development meets our conditions, I will pursue it.
As Mayor, I am committed to creating opportunity for all our citizens and making sure that Fort Wayne has every chance to thrive. In these difficult economic times, I believe that we must find new ways to grow jobs and build a more attractive and competitive city and region.
But more than anything else, I want the people of Fort Wayne to have the chance to decide for themselves on this important issue.
Indiana recently marked the 20th anniversary of the lottery. In the two decades that have followed its introduction, legalized gaming has grown substantially in Indiana. In fiscal year 2009, gaming tax revenue totaled nearly $1.1 billion dollars – that includes revenues from the lottery and the many other forms of legalized gaming that exist in our state. Today those options include lottery games, riverboat casinos, racinos, horse racing, pull-tabs, charity bingos and charity casinos.
Gaming is already a reality in Fort Wayne. In fact, it permeates the community. Please allow me to share a map that better makes this statement. Thanks to the Hoosier Lottery, off-track betting, pull-tabs in bars and taverns, and a number of charity bingos and charity casinos operating at present, legalized gaming already exists in 336 venues in Fort Wayne. Except for the lottery, all of those opportunities came to pass without a referendum.
As the second largest metropolitan area in the state of Indiana without a casino, Fort Wayne has not been a full beneficiary of the potential financial benefits of casino revenues. As Mayor, my first responsibility is to the citizens of Fort Wayne and the city’s economic health. In these challenging times, I am committed to exploring opportunities for all our citizens and helping to position Fort Wayne for a future of growth and prosperity. If a casino in Fort Wayne represents the potential for new jobs, high-quality investment and significant new revenue, it is an opportunity that the citizens of Fort Wayne should have the right to consider.
The exploration of gaming and the request for a referendum is not a decision that my administration has come to lightly. We have commissioned studies, we have investigated the impact on other communities in Indiana, and we have looked at how the other communities have integrated gaming into their agendas, goals and operations. We have examined whether and how there have been positive impacts on those communities. Having studied the issue thoroughly, I am convinced now is the time for Fort Wayne to have this debate.
In a recent poll, Fort Wayne voters were asked who should decide whether legalized gaming comes to our city. Their choice was clear and overwhelming: 89 percent of those surveyed believe Fort Wayne voters should decide.
When asked whether a referendum to allow gaming in Fort Wayne should be put on the ballot, 82 percent said yes. Only 13 percent said no.
In short, Fort Wayne voters believe that they should decide the future of legalized gaming in Fort Wayne, and they want to see a referendum on the ballot.
I respect the fact that there are diverse opinions on the issue of gaming. That’s why I believe it is important for the citizens of Fort Wayne to have the right to decide what opportunities they want to explore.
On an issue of this magnitude, the public should be allowed to speak. To be able to choose our own destiny is a founding American principle. I trust the judgment of the people of Fort Wayne. I ask that you support legislation that would permit a referendum on the issue of gaming so that the citizens of Fort Wayne may voice their own decision.
Thank you very much for the invitation to present testimony here today. At this time, I am happy to answer any questions that you may have. Thank you again.