A brand-new land-based casino will open in Evansville next month. It will be a milestone in Indiana history.
The day that casino opens will be the day Indiana must grow up and leave childhood behind. Not grow up as in “finally decide to do the right thing.” But grow up in the sense of at least admitting it is doing something wrong instead of pretending it isn't.
The game of “let's pretend” began in 1993 when the state approved legislation allowing casinos, during an emergency session of the General Assembly and after a referendum in which 60 percent of the voters approved of legalized gambling.
But the state wanted to keep as much distance from such sinful goings on as it could. So casinos had to be on riverboats and, furthermore, the boats actually had to be navigating the water while gambling was taking place. The stated reason for the rigid requirement that the 10 riverboats would be on the Ohio River and Lake Michigan was that it would bring economic development to some poorer areas of Indiana while attracting gamblers from other states.
But the truth is officials didn't want that awful gambling on precious Hoosier soil. They could collect taxes from the evil enterprise, but the actual dirty deed would take place offshore.
Then came an unforeseen development. New casinos in surrounding states started to pop up, eating into riverboat profits and reducing the state's tax take. So the state eased up on its rules — the riverboats must still be “navigable,” but they could stay docked even while gambling was taking place. The idea wasn't to encourage gambling, you understand, but just to make the existing businesses more competitive.
Then there was even more competition from border states, so the gambling operations were finally allowed to move from the water's edge and build casinos on land, the one in Evansville being the first to make the change. Gov. Mike Pence allowed the change to become law without his signature in 2015 because, he said, it met his definition of not being “an expansion of gambling,” which he had pledged to prevent, and the “let's pretend” exercise continued.
Now, guess what? The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians will open Indiana's first tribal casino in South Bend next year, and it won't have to pay gambling-related taxes or follow gaming laws imposed on other facilities. That means gambling revenue and tax receipts will go down again — probably dramatically — so the state will make the biggest reduction in the rules ever. At least, let's quite pretending that it isn't doubling down on its dependence on and commitment to the evil enterprise of gambling.