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Gambling regulators largely mum on legislative hit

Plus, charity gambling recovers after the pandemic.

Indiana gambling regulators on Thursday brushed off concerns over the effects of a targeted, last-minute legislative change to the agency’s budget and casino fines.

“As with any law passed by the General Assembly, the (Indiana Gaming Commission) will work to fully comply with the provisions …” spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said.

She added the commission “does not anticipate any negative impact upon agency operations as a result of the bill.”

Statehouse Republicans this month finalized legislation increasing lawmaker oversight over the agency’s extra-budgetary requests. Under current law, the executive branch approve can augmentation — or increased spending authorization — without legislative involvement.

But beginning in July, Senate Enrolled Act 256 will block the State Budget Agency or any other source from augmenting that agency’s budget without State Budget Committee approval. The entity is made up of four voting lawmakers and the state budget director, and it usually meets every 60 days.

The legislation additionally directs casino fines and penalty money to the state’s coffers, instead of the agency’s.

Sen. Chris Garten, R-Charlestown, has led efforts to crack down on the agency after going public with his grievances over the interim. He maintains the agency is too aggressive and punitive in regulating casinos.

Opponents, however, argued the changes could impede regulators’ efforts even as a former lawmaker is currently headed to prison for his involvement in a casino bribery scandal.

Charity gambling recovers

The pandemic dealt charitable gambling a harsh blow, sending gross receipts tumbling from $433 million in 2019 to $326 million in 2021 and leaving small organizations struggling.

“Everything dropped down. At that time we didn’t know if charity gaming was going to come back,” Charity Gaming Division Director Mark Mason said at the commission’s Thursday meeting.  He said organizations were struggling to get volunteers.

But charitable gambling is back and doing better than before.

“Rumors of our deaths are greatly exaggerated,” Mason said.

Charitable gambling receipts last year out-performed pre-pandemic numbers, hitting their highest total since at least 2016.

Gross income was about $475 million in 2023, according to slides presented at the meeting. The organizations paid out about $364 million of the money in prizes and kept about $110 million. They also donate some of their proceeds to other charities.

This article originally appeared on Indiana Capital Chronicle.

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