04/29/2007 11:00PM

Indiana tracks can get slots - for a fee


The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill late Sunday night that would allow each of the state's two horse racing tracks to operate 2,000 slot machines, provided the tracks pay a $250 million license fee.

The bill, which was passed out of a conference committee on Sunday and then was approved by both houses of the legislature within minutes of each other, is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels. The bill requires 15 percent of slot-machine revenue - up to a limit of $85 million - to be used as a subsidy for horse racing purses, with racetracks keeping at least 50 percent of the new gambling revenue.

Rick Moore, the general manager of Hoosier Park, said that the track's owner, Centaur Inc., plans to proceed with a casino despite the high license fee. The $250 million is the highest up-front fee that a state legislature has demanded as a requirement to open a casino at a racetrack.

"It's going to be a stretch," Moore said.

Hoosier Park is located in Anderson, Ind., about 40 miles northeast of Indianapolis. Indiana's other racetrack, Indiana Downs, is located in Shelbyville, about 30 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

Hoosier Park is in the midst of a 61-day harness meet. The track is scheduled to run a Thoroughbred meet from Sept. 1 to Nov. 24. Indiana Downs began its Thoroughbred meet on Friday night and runs through July 3. The track will run a Standardbred meet from July 13 to Nov. 3.

The racetracks will face competition from existing casinos in the state. Though the Indiana legislature had consistently opposed slot machines at racetracks in the past, several legislators said they supported the bill because revenue from the new casinos would allow the state to fund property-tax relief. Property-tax bills have increased markedly over the past several years in Indiana, as in many other states, because of the housing boom.

The bill also requires each racetrack to invest at least $100 million in its casino and hold at least 140 live racing days a year.

Under the bill, the Indiana Gaming Commission will be responsible for writing the rules and regulations for operation of the slots. Because it is unclear how long that will take, Moore said that Hoosier had not estimated when the track would have a casino up and running. In other states that have legalized slots, the process has taken anywhere from six months to several years.

"We haven't been presumptuous" about the bill passing, Moore said. "We don't have a plan yet, but we hope to in three or four more weeks when things are a little clearer."