Senate OKs assault on illegal gambling

Indianapolis – The Senate voted 38-11 Wednesday to crack down on illegal gambling while loosening some charity gaming rules.

House Bill 1510 addresses a concern of local non-profit groups by allowing them to use their full-time employees to put on charitable gambling events, such as a raffle or casino night.

But Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, added language to the bill that would give the state more tools to go after illegal gambling, from Cherry Master machines, electronic gaming devices to poker tournaments.

Funding was added to pay for 25?additional excise police officers to ferret out illegal gambling, and a special state prosecutor was added to move forward with criminal cases when local prosecutors choose not?to.

“Gambling is out of control in the state of Indiana, and this bill truly tries to draw a line in the sand,” Long said, noting that Cherry Masters especially are a scourge.

“They are addictive and cheat people, and as far as I’m concerned eliminating their use is a positive for the state.”

Sen. Robert Meeks, R-LaGrange, reminded his colleagues that he has tried for years to regulate, legalize and tax these machines so they didn’t get out of control. But he met with resistance from his conservative caucus.

Now he describes a barn in his district full of the machines, as well as a semi-trailer and a gas station with 20 cars outside but no one in the store.

“When you walk down the hallway to go the men’s room, there’s a gaming casino there with 20 machines, and every one is being played,” Meeks said.

He noted that if the current laws on the books haven’t made a difference, nothing in the latest bill will dent the machines’ popularity.

But Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, laid the blame for the growth in the devices on the “lack of attention by local prosecutors and their failure to enforce the law.”

Sen. David Ford, R-Hartford City – a former prosecutor – took umbrage, saying he prosecuted several illegal gambling cases in his day.

“The problem is that juries just won’t convict because frankly they see the whole thing as hypocritical,” he said, referring to the state authorization of the lottery, riverboat casinos and off-track betting parlors.

The Senate and House also recently passed legislation to put 3,000 slot machines at the state’s horse tracks.

“It’s hard to look at them right in the eye with a straight face and say we are cracking down on gambling in Indiana while at the same time we are licensing 3,000 more machines this session,” Ford said.

The bill is headed to a conference committee where House and Senate leaders will try to reach a compromise.

Meeks and Ford voted against the legislation, while northeast Indiana’s other four senators supported it.

Liquor liability bill to be scrutinized

The Indiana Senate voted 40-8 Wednesday to study the issue of requiring bars, taverns and restaurants to carry liquor liability insurance.

“There were a lot of questions raised. We needed more information,” said Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville.

House Bill 1347 originally would have pushed through the requirement without study. The insurance would have provided compensation to those injured or killed as a result of an establishment knowingly and intentionally overserving patrons.

Between half and 75?percent of the establishments already carry the coverage.

The House author of the legislation can either accept the amended bill or send it to a conference committee for final negotiation.