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September 2, 2014

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Dockside gambling OK’d for seven Indiana riverboats

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Gaming Commission gave approval Monday for seven riverboat casinos to offer dockside gambling starting Thursday.

But the commission punished three other casinos for disobeying a directive to restrict advertising about the start of dockside gambling before the commission's approval.

Those boats -- Harrah's in East Chicago and Trump and Majestic Star in Gary -- must wait until Monday to begin offering dockside.

The new rules will allow customers to come and go freely rather than take two-hour cruises on Lake Michigan or the Ohio River on established schedules. Even if weather or water conditions prevented the boats from cruising, boarding times were restricted under previous state law.

The looser restrictions were authorized by the General Assembly during the recent special session in hopes of generating tens of millions of dollars in additional casino taxes for the state. The new law imposes a graduated wagering tax on casinos that implement dockside, also called "flexible boarding."

Illinois approved dockside gambling in 1999. Casinos there closed out their first full year of dockside in 2000 by posting a record $1.65 billion in revenue -- 21.6 percent higher than the previous year.

Jack Thar, the commission's executive director, said he warned the Indiana casinos against advertising dockside operations for Thursday before the commission acted.

He said he specifically told them not to advertise dockside in big bold letters while putting disclaimers about pending commission approval in tiny print. But three of them did it anyway on posters or banners, he said.

"All other boats to my knowledge followed directives," Thar said. "If a general manager can't control the marketing department, we've got a problem."

The commission at first voted to prevent Caesars Indiana in Harrison County on the Ohio River from going dockside until Monday. Caesars had taken out a newspaper advertisement that Thar later acknowledged fit his specifications on what was permitted.

Commission members said they believed the casinos were trying to gain a competitive advantage over the others that did not advertise dockside operations.

"It's as if our action was presumed and our action was taken for granted," commission member Ann Bochnowski said.

The seven approved casinos -- Horseshoe in Hammond, Aztar in Evansville, Hyatt Grand Victoria in Rising Sun, Belterra in Vevay, Blue Chip in Michigan City, Argosy in Lawrenceburg and Caesars Indiana -- can begin flexible boarding at 6 a.m. Thursday.

Argosy issued a news release saying it was pleased that patrons could soon play longer and "won't have to worry about missing the boat." Argosy recorded its best-ever first six months of the year with taxable admissions of 3.8 million and gross gambling revenue of $182 million.

Argosy General Manager Larry Kinser said the first few weeks of dockside might not be indicative of long-term trends.

"At this point we don't know what impact dockside will have on our business flow," he said.

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