INDIANAPOLIS - The Senate Rules Committee heard testimony April 2 and approved a bill that supporters say would crackdown on illegal gambling by stepping up enforcement and enacting stricter penalties into the enforcement of illegal gambling devices across the state. At press time, the bill was on the floor of the Senate for consideration.

The plan developed by Senate Republican leaders would be the legislature's first significant step toward rooting out the tens of thousands of illegal gambling machines that operate under names like Cherry Master and Pot O' Gold. But the proposal comes as bar owners and some other lawmakers are pushing to legalize the machines, regulate them and tax their earnings.

Sen. David Long of Fort Wayne, president pro tempore of the Senate and chair of the Rules Committee chaired the second and final hearing on House Bill 1510. The strict enforcement was amended to, a charity gambling regulation measure.

The bill as amended would provide nearly $2 million for 25 police officers who would be dedicated to investigating illegal gambling. The measure also would increase the criminal penalties for people charged a second time with promoting professional gambling. Further, it would authorize the state to revoke lottery contracts, retail merchant permits and state licenses that allow the sale of tobacco and alcohol held by any company or organization found with illegal gambling machines.

The legislation would create a special prosecutor to handle gambling cases and would increase penalties to include the possible revocation of licenses for selling tobacco, alcohol or lottery products, according to press reports.

Gaming experts say Cherry Masters, similar to slots, are unfair to players and can be programmed to pay far less than a typical casino slot machine.

The Indiana Coalition Against Legalized Gambling testified at this hearing in support of the crackdown but against an expansion of legalized gambling.