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Senate panel approves gaming intercept tool

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The full Senate will now decide whether casinos should be forced to check if certain gamblers winning larger jackpots are on a delinquent child support list, and if those gaming winnings should be automatically frozen and put toward the amount owed.

On Wednesday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-1 on a multi-pronged bill aimed at Indiana's child support collection process. Various issues and statutes are addressed in SB 163, such as license suspensions, how delinquent payers are kept track of, and how various state agencies and courts handle some of those topics.

But one of the most controversial aspects involves a "gaming interference" provision that would allow the state to seize delinquent child support on certain larger casino wins. Amounts discussed included $1,200, meaning someone would have to win at least that much before winnings could be frozen and put toward the delinquent child support. Nothing final happened on that matter.

The bill would put casinos in charge of checking gamblers with single-game winnings of at least a certain amount against a list of parents who are at least $2,000 behind in child-support payments. Currently, about 165,000 noncustodial parents fit that description and owe more than $2 billion in back child-support payments, according to the agency handling most of the child support collection task, the state's Department of Child Services.

This legislation would be a similar setup to how banks are currently required to do periodic checks against a database of people who owe child support, and how the insurance industry voluntarily participates in a similar check when handling insurance award payouts. The state's gaming industry opposes the legislation on grounds that it's being singled out and that it would negatively impact their business.

Lawmakers first discussed the topic on Jan. 6, but turned to it for follow-up and a vote at today's second Senate Judiciary meeting. All senators present to vote agreed with the idea of requiring this check and winnings' freeze from casinos, even Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, who voted against its passage. He said the bill doesn't go far enough and thinks the insurance industry should be required to do this. He also wants to talk about how other industries might be involved.

"This should have been done a long time ago," he said. "But I don't think it's strong enough at this point. This is a good bill, but I'm voting no because it has a lot left to be considered."

All the other committee members in attendance voted in favor of the bill, including those who'd expressed concerns a week earlier about the gaming industry impact and that single industry being singled out. Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, was absent.

Voting in favor of the legislation, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, was skeptical about the casino's argument of not being able to easily put a checking system into place, since this is a "day of technology" and those types of things are commonplace in the public and private sectors. He also wondered about why the bill had a threshold of $1,200 before any winnings could be frozen.

"That's a good compromise number, but really I think we should be looking at the first dollar won," he said. "Why should we enrich someone who owes child support and isn't keeping up with their obligations?"

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, also expressed his support of the legislation as public policy, but did indicate he could see the gaming industry's side of the debate because it effectively gives the industry the role of "collection agent" to a degree.

Committee chair Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, told the gaming industry that negotiations would continue about how that component of the bill would be included as the legislation progresses. Bray described it as having "a long way to go before being finished," even though the Indiana General Assembly is in a short session and must wrap up its work by March 14.

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