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October 1, 2014

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Indiana casino winnings up on dockside gambling

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana's riverboat casinos took in nearly $198 million during the first month of dockside gambling in August, an increase of $25 million, or 14.5 percent, over July when more stringent boarding restrictions were in place.

The $198 million in adjusted gross revenue -- the amount of gambling money casinos made after payouts -- was 24 percent higher than the $159 million the 10 casinos took in during August 2001, according to preliminary figures released Friday by the Indiana Gaming Commission.

Total admissions and wagering taxes last month were about $38.2 million, down from the $50 million the casinos paid to state and local governments in July.

That was no big surprise since it was just the first month the casinos were subjected to a new, graduated wagering tax the General Assembly established for dockside gambling.

Under the previous law, casinos paid an admissions tax and a flat 20-percent wagering tax based on revenue.

Under the new graduated system, the first $25 million in annual revenue is taxed at a lower rate of 15 percent. The next $25 million is taxed at 20 percent, and the scale increases, to a maximum of 35 percent for revenue above $150 million.

Six of the state's 10 casinos made less than $25 million in August, so they were taxed at the lower 15 percent rate. As annual revenue adds up in the coming months, total taxes are expected to rise significantly above levels under the previous system.

The new rules 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 lawmakers during the recent special session in hopes of generating tens of millions of dollars in additional casino taxes for the state.

Seven Indiana casinos began dockside operations on Aug. 1, while the three others began Aug. 5.

Jennifer Arnold, a spokeswoman for the state commission, said the agency saw "no real surprises" in the first-month figures under dockside.

"We were all anxious to see how things would shake out," she said.

Barry Morris, general manager of the Caesars Indiana casino on the Ohio River in Harrison County, said he was pleased with the first month of dockside. The casino took in $25.8 million in August, up from $21.7 million in July.

"I think that dockside didn't necessarily grow the market. I think what it did do is make it a lot more convenient for the folks who were coming anyway," Morris said.

He said that convenience in the coming months could make the casino a more attractive destination to people in cities such as Evansville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Nashville, Tenn.

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