Opinion: Some issues with JG’s editorial

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The Journal Gazette’s editorial in today’s paper has some questionable conclusions.

In talking about the “lack” of public support for a casino in Fort Wayne:

[…] No local lawmakers have taken an active role in seeking a referendum.

One of the reasons that local lawmakers haven’t taken an active role in seeking the referendum is that at this point, without an available license, there’s no point in a referendum.  Plus, if one were ever to become available, a referendum vote would be automatic.  So, asking for a referendum vote at this point is like putting the horse before the cart –  a phrase uttered time and again during the session Monday.  If lawmakers aren’t rushing to get behind the call for a referendum vote at this point in the game, shouldn’t be taken as proof they don’t support one.

Also, to say that there is a, “lack of visible, vocal support from Fort Wayne residents” does not necessarily indicate there aren’t supporters.  Never underestimate the silent majority and don’t judge an issue solely on the amount and level of protests.  Same applies to our local lawmakers.  Many are reticent for fear of influencing the outcome of a possible referendum vote.

[…] Competition from a Steuben County group, which presented a much more unified front in making the case for a countywide referendum on gambling. Officials from Angola, Fremont, Orland and county government pressed for a casino referendum, arguing that the county’s proximity to Interstate 69 and the Indiana Toll Road makes it a prime location for a northeast Indiana gambling venue.

I don’t know if I’d call Steuben County a “prime” location, especially with the closeness of the newly constructed Michigan facilities. Also, just because there’s a lot of traffic on the Toll Road, doesn’t mean it’s traffic looking for a casino. Most of the traffic on the Toll Road is travelling between two points – not looking for a place to stop off and gamble. The threat to Fort Wayne’s desires comes from the unified front and the fact that Don Barden, owner of the licenses in Gary, has stated a preference for Steuben County.

[…] Lawmakers are looking for additional tax revenues, not a redistribution of existing ones.

If you look at the resolution which created the Gaming Study Committee, there is nothing charged to the committee in the area of looking for additional tax revenues.  I’ve heard no conversation in the committee concerning raising revenues.  However, one sentiment that was expressed a few times Monday and in previous sessions, was that perhaps there is a need to look at a realignment of licenses and the possibility of offering land-based options. Granted the realignment area was not mentioned either, but it seems to have been something that has developed out of the sessions.

[…] There is no available casino license. Speculation is that the city of Gary will give up one of its two riverboat casino licenses in favor of a land-based casino, but legislators are mindful of the perception that approving a gambling license for another county amounts to an expansion of gambling. There is a good chance that the Gary license will go elsewhere in Lake County.

It’s a bit more than speculation. Several Gary officials were at the September session stating they would happily allow one of their licenses to be transferred to another city. I never once heard anyone equate that move to an expansion of gambling. Realignment, yes, expansion no. But, one of the stumbling blocks with this is the fact that they would want the remaining license to be made into a land-based license. There was opposition to that as several committee members mentioned that the whole reason of going with riverboats to begin with was the perception that it was somehow more palatable to citizens and lawmakers.

Conversion into a land-based license would be met with opposition from inside the gaming industry. There were several who testified in September, that conversion of an existing riverboat license into land-based would give an unfair advantage to that license holder in their ability to locate anywhere.  It would penalize those who have already made the investment in existing riverboat facilities.  This was one of the issues charged to the committee – exploration of land-based gaming.

[…] The legislative panel, which is also juggling licensing and taxing issues from existing Indiana casinos, did not vote on Henry’s request Monday. It is doubtful that its report to the full General Assembly will include the Fort Wayne recommendation.

Actually, they’ve not voted on anything in any of the sessions – and if my information is correct, the only item they might vote on is their final report. As far as it being doubtful that the final report will include the Fort Wayne recommendation, the reason it will not is that it is premature to suggest it yet. The first determination, and what would probably be more likely – although I highly doubt it will happen – would be for the committee to make a suggestion that a license from Gary be transferred to either Steuben County or Fort Wayne.  However, I do think the report will have a recommendation concerning Fort Wayne – that at this point, a referendum vote would be pointless.

It is now apparent that this issue is going nowhere and had very slim chances for advancement from the start.  Not the issue of a referendum vote because frankly, that is a no-brainer.  *IF* a gaming license would become available for Fort Wayne a referendum vote would be automatic.  What Fort Wayne should have been spending money to hire lobbyists on was obtaining a casino license – not a referendum vote.  But even that would have been a long shot without a clear developer/investor.

I would raise the question of why the hired lobbyists accepted the contracts for something they knew would not happen, or if it did, would be granted automatically as dictated by statute?  Was discussion had concerning how realistic the Administration’s expectations were?  Did the Administration know how the process works?  Did they understand that with no available license, a referendum vote would be pointless?  Or that if a license did become available, a referendum would be automatic?  I still, in listening to some of those on the committee Tuesday, had questions of whether or not they had been talked to by our lobbyists.  What exactly have we paid our lobbyists for?  Is there an available accounting of their activities on our behalf on this issue?

These are the questions we should be asking.

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