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Jon Ford

President, National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, Indiana State Senator

Jon Ford

When most Americans think of the term “gaming states,” Indiana doesn’t usually register, but the Hoosier State has become one of the fastest-growing gaming markets in the U.S., thanks largely to state Senator Jon Ford. In his time in office thus far, Ford has championed numerous pieces of gaming legislation, including the successful launch of sports betting in 2019. Now, his goal is to get online gaming passed, and even though the latest attempt was unsuccessful, Ford is determined to enter a market that both players and legislators can enjoy. He spoke with GGB Managing Editor Jess Marquez remotely in June.

GGB: You’ve spoken in the past about sports betting in Indiana. How have the last six months been in relation to the sports betting market in your state?

Ford: In terms of sports wagering, we continue to have success here in Indiana and keep having increased revenues. I think we’re approaching, in terms of tax revenue, the $100 million mark for the fiscal year, which is a positive for us more than what our analysis showed going into it.

There has been increased pushback recently regarding sports betting advertising and partnerships. Is this something that your constituents have asked you about?

We certainly have heard from some folks that there’s too much advertising for sports wagering, and some don’t like the giveaways to gamble. But the way I look at it is, I think the advertising part is going to work itself out. I think we’re hearing Wall Street putting more and more pressure on some of these large companies to produce better profits. I think as part of that, they’ll spend less money on advertising in the future. And maybe we’ll see more deals like what we saw with Penn and Barstool, buying companies that have greater influence through social media instead of mainstream advertising.

You’ve been a proponent of iGaming legislation in Indiana for years. This past session, the iGaming bill failed to pass. What are some of the takeaways that you have when assessing this most recent attempt?

I think we need to have a better discussion about cannibalization and some more research on that. Our gaming commission had a study done, and it showed very little cannibalization, but our legislative services came out with their report and showed more cannibalization than we’ve ever seen on any other report in the country. So I think we’ve got to do a better job on that.

I think we need to do a better job in explaining how this will affect brick-and-mortar casinos. We saw in New York, there was a lot of discussion about labor… And then also here in Indiana, a big issue was the distributed gaming, and where we’re going with video gaming terminals.

What are some of the frameworks and/or safeguards that need to be in place to foster an iGaming market in Indiana that is safe and effective?

First of all, I think we have to have a more robust responsible gaming program here in Indiana. I think we need to put more money towards it. I think our gaming commission needs to have a staff member that is an expert on responsible gaming, and really help develop programs, because we can’t be naive. There may be people that have issues, and we need to be prepared to help them.

So, some of the guardrails we put in place with sports wagering need to be age verification, know your customer (KYC) strategies, consumer protections in terms of payments—those kinds of things we need to make sure are in place. And then, also, good licensing of good quality vendors.

You are the president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States. What’s your role as president, and what does the organization stand for?

NCLGS was formed about 29 years ago, with the focus of helping legislators and creating an environment where we can all get together and share best practices and bring in experts to help us develop those best practices.

At this year’s summer conference, we’ve got a “Gaming 101” where we hold a course for legislators that are new to gaming, so they can come in and learn all the acronyms and all of the different types of gaming that are out there. It’s important, because for a lot of states, revenue is coming through gaming. My role as president is to be the voice out there, and help to attract legislators and experts to come to our conferences and share their thoughts.

Jess Marquez is the managing editor of Global Gaming Business. A lifelong Nevadan, Marquez has communications experience across multiple sectors, including local government. Prior to joining GGB, he was the communications and advertising director for a prominent personal injury law firm based in Las Vegas and Seattle. He also founded and hosted The Pair O’Dice Podcast, a weekly show that focused on sports betting news and predictions. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2019 with a B.A. in journalism. Outside of work, Marquez is passionate about professional sports, classic literature and leatherworking.

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