NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Legalizing betting on sports isn’t a good decision for Indiana

Hoping that legalized sports wagering will be a significant benefit for the state of Indiana is a bad bet.

Senate Bill 552 would allow wagering on sports on the premises of the state’s existing gaming outlets including casinos, racinos and satellite facilities. It also would allow a Gary casino to relocate and allow a new casino in Terre Haute. The bill was approved by the Senate last month. This week, the House approved the bill with amendments that the Senate rejected. The bill now moves to conference committee, where House and Senate leaders will try to hammer out differences in the bill.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year opened the door for states to allow for betting on sports. Seven states – Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia. Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island – already have legalized sports betting in some form and several others, like Indiana, have pending legislation.

If approved as written, sports wagering would start in September. Such wagers could only be done on the premises of the dozen or so gaming sites in the state. The bill proposes taxing sports wagering at the rate of 9.5 percent.

Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, is one of the authors of the bill. He said Indiana residents spend $300 million on illegal sports bets already and that the bill offers a framework for legal sports betting by utilizing existing casino licenses.

But it is unclear how much of that $300 million will move from illegal to legal betting, especially given that bets may only be placed at one of the gaming sites. The bill specifically prohibits online bets, after House lawmakers removed such a provision allowing for mobile betting from the Senate version.

That worries proponents of betting, who said online betting is critical to making wagering viable. Estimates are that up to 80 percent of illegal sports betting already takes place on mobile devices.

Gambling has always been a risky proposition for government. States have always had a hard time resisting the temptation of easy money, whether it be the lottery, horse racing, casinos or betting on sports. But the reality is gambling has rarely lived up to the promise, and this latest legislation feels like more of the same.

Jobs and economic development are always touted, but the jobs are mostly low-wage and many of the gamblers are lower income. And gambling hasn’t proven to be a growth industry. Why else do gaming locales always oppose the expansion of gaming licenses and sites?

There has always been something wrong with government encouraging and benefiting from the public putting its hard-earned money at unnecessary risk. Lawmakers understand this. Why else would Indiana legislators require 3.3 percent of the tax revenue received from sports wagering to be deposited in the addiction services fund?

With only days left in the session, lawmakers may not be able to resolve their differences, particularly over online gambling. That could turn out to be for the best.

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