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Jon Ford

Indiana State Senator

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Legalizing sports betting in Indiana was one of the smoothest and most efficient processes in all the states. A reasonable tax rate, fees and regulations have proven to be a success story in the state. Senator Jon Ford steered that process through the state Senate and now he’s looking to do the same with iGaming. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the winter conference for the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) at Resorts World in Las Vegas in December. (Listen to podcast above or view video below).

GGB: Indiana had a very successful launch of sports betting, particularly when you view the debuts in other states. Why was it so smooth in Indiana?

Jon Ford: I think one of the big reasons was conferences by NCLGS, where a lot of our legislators like myself got educated. And then we spent a lot of time on educating the General Assembly. We even brought the University of Nevada, Las Vegas out to Indiana to hold a class. So, the key was educational.

Did you model it after any specific state?

We took bits and pieces from a lot of different states, and definitely looked at New Jersey, especially for the regulating side.

(Division of Gaming Enforcement Director) Dave Rebuck in New Jersey is very open to counseling other states in terms of their regulations. They had it pretty much nailed right from the start.

They’ve had years of experience, so why not go to the best place that was operating at the top of the game?

What were some of your challenges in getting the bill passed?

Probably the biggest one was, did we really need to do this now? Was there that many people betting on sports? To me, that was kind of a silly argument because everybody’s been betting on sports for a long time, and we knew it was going on. There was also some controversy with the leagues at the time because it was so new. I think the leagues felt they should get a piece of the gaming dollars. So navigating that was an issue. And finally, obviously, Indiana is a very conservative state, and overcoming some of the religious objections was also a hurdle.

What were some of the compromises you had to make? You have a very reasonable tax rate. The fees were also pretty reasonable to get a license. But obviously there were other people that had wanted to raise it as high as possible.

The argument for me for keeping the rates low was we really wanted to get rid of the illegal market. So we believed if we keep taxes low and keep the barriers to entry low, that we could draw more of that illegal business into a regulated market.

The licensing process was an important part because we needed the integrity of gaming to be as high as possible, because otherwise people will start believing that the games aren’t fair.

What kinds of stipulations did you put in for responsible gaming to protect people who might have problems with gambling?

Geofencing was really a key piece. Obviously we need to do that to meet federal rules, but then we put in the know-your-customer strategies and age verification to make sure children couldn’t be a part of it. We designated a lot of consumer protections that happen when someone gets licensed.

Are you pleased with the way it kicked off, and the revenue that it is producing for the state?

It’s kind of funny. I get jabbed a little bit by my colleagues because I stood up there and said we think the illegal market’s $300 million. Well, last year we did about $2.2 billion. I get kidded about it, but it’s a hard number to come by. But yes, we’ve been very happy with the rollout and it’s been a great success.

So your next challenge is taking on online gaming, which has also been very successful in the states where it exists. What are some of the strategies you’re going to use to get that bill passed?

We’ll clearly talk about the illegal gaming and that it’s going on right now in Indiana, and how can we bring that into a regulated market, and putting those consumer protections in place, because one of my fears is that kids are getting online and betting illegally. In a regulated space, testing these products to make sure they’re fair to consumers is a key part. And we know the illegal market is taking higher margins.

A study done by the Indiana Gaming Commission about the impact of online gaming in Indiana showed the state could reap as much as $900 million in taxes on iGaming. Did this give your movement some impetus there?

A little bit, but we’re like a lot of states right now sitting with a large surplus, so we don’t need the money. So that argument isn’t going as well as I thought it would. One of the areas I think we’re going to try to do more on is responsible gaming—putting more money into responsible gaming.

So what’s the plan going forward? Do you have a timeline?

We go into session in January, and Rep. Ethan Manning on the House side, who is chair of public policy, will be filing the bill and will be starting in the House. Our session ends in April, so hopefully by the end of April we’ve got something passed.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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