By John Wolf
While reviewing the 2007 Indiana Legislature's record on gambling, I recalled a remark by Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, at the start of the session.
He said, "Gambling in Indiana is out of control."
"Gambling controls Indiana."
This time, the gambling expansionists took no chances. Centaur Inc. spent $93,650 lobbying. Indiana Downs spent $42,115.
The main issue was the expansion of horse-racing tracks at Anderson and Shelbyville into "racinos" by adding slots, making them the first land-based casinos in the state. The stated objective was to use the revenue to "reduce the property taxes," but the real plum was to market the Indianapolis interior of the state and make a few owners rich.
The tracks already receive a $27 million subsidy from casino taxes. The tracks are to pay the state $300 million in reparations.
Veteran Rep. Chet Dobis, D-Merrillville, showed his courage by opposing the move to help a "failed industry" that pays minimum wages.
"Why not help automotive in Kokomo or steel in Northwest Indiana?" he asked.
Rep. Duane Cheney, D-Portage, and freshman Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, agreed and voted "no" to gambling expansion in a bipartisan vote.
National anti-gambling spokesman Tom Grey said, "The cancer of gambling metastasizes through greed, governors and grass-roots apathy."
So where was Gov. Mitch Daniels, who publicly had affirmed "no expansion of gambling?" Daniels signed the bill to allow the slots with the excuse that he also signed into law raids on service clubs, fraternal groups, etc., that have illegal cherry master gambling machines hidden away.
My answer to this deception is that the slots were illegal before and were seldom raided. Most of these groups are in financial trouble because of membership die-off and weak recruitment.
My suggestion to the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars is to unite. Forget about "booze, butts and betting," and fight for veteran rehab.
There's no need to worry about Gary casino owner Don Barden seeking to bring his extra license to Porter County. Veteran Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, took care of that with an amendment stopping the license from leaving Gary.
Lake County legislators also put a stop to new taxes on casino expansion that allows barges.
Keep in mind that the original casino boat legislation written by Rogers, with the help of casino attorneys, was to benefit Gary. Now, Gary is close to bankruptcy and is rumored to be dealing quietly with an Indian tribe to bring a land-based casino to Gleason Park.
Did the legislators "sell their souls for slot machines," as one local editor put it, or is Indiana so far under control of the gambling mentality that its soul is in danger as well?
John D. Wolf is a retired United Methodist minister and is a founder of both the Indiana and National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. He lives in Valparaiso.