At first glance, the legislation seems like the sort that no one could possibly have an objection to.
The problem is huge. Only 58 percent of child support payments are collected in Indiana. The unpaid child support bill is upwards of $2 billion, which includes 165,000 non-custodial parents who owe $2,000 or more.
Senate Bill 163 could help make a dent in that deficit by snagging the gaming winnings of deadbeat parents in Indiana's casinos. Indiana Lawyer wrote a story on this topic in the Jan. 20-Feb. 2, 2010, issue. The legislation was before the House Committee on Public Policy for a vote at Indiana Lawyer deadline.
The bill would bring state law in line with federal law regarding income withholding and participating in family assistance programs. SB 163 also would allow various state agencies or boards to suspend licenses - such as drivers, fishing, hunting, or alcoholic beverage licenses - if child support payments aren't made. This legislation also addresses medical costs in relation to how child support is calculated, which is an ever-growing item of interest that gets at how both parents must pay for a child's health insurance.
But the part of the bill that would require casinos to check their winning patron's names against a state database of parents who owe child support has the gaming industry lobbying against the measure.
Here's how it would work. Let's say Deadbeat Mom owes Custodial Dad $4,500 in unpaid child support for the benefit of their two children. She takes some of the proceeds from her first paycheck in ages to one of our state's riverboat casinos for a night of high rolling and she hits it big, to the tune of $2,000. While she's whooping and hollering about her payday, the casino will do a check of her name against the state's database of deadbeat parents, and finding Deadbeat Mom's name there, will redirect the winnings to her two children.
It's a great scenario from the point of of view of Department of Child Services Director James Payne, a former juvenile court judge. He said during a hearing on the legislation last month that banks are currently required to perform similar checks for deadbeat parents, and that insurance companies do so now on a voluntary basis when handling insurance award payouts.
But the Casino Association of Indiana believes it's being picked on with the proposal, arguing that the database checks could cause a two-minute delay on casino floors with every win. That could add up to 13,000 work-hours every year. CAI Director Mike Smith believes the checks would cause grumbling on the casino floors and cause gamblers who might be snagged by the database to go outside Indiana for their fun.
"With our tax burdens, we are paying our fair share to have the privilege of operating in Indiana," Smith told the committee last month. "We just ask not to be additionally burdened."
He's right about the tax portion of his argument. Indiana is second only to Nevada in the amount of tax revenue it earns from gaming, taking in $838.2 million in 2008. The figures for 2009 aren't currently available.
Casinos already are required to generate tax forms for people who win more than $1,200 on slot machines and more than $600 from certain types of other gambling. Smith thinks it makes more sense to send that information not only to the Indiana Department of Revenue but also the DCS for review for child support collections.
The only problem with that idea is the money will surely already have been spent by the time the state could learn it's available to collect.
Most lawmakers like the bill, while one voted against it because he thought it didn't go far enough and should involve other industries.
We believe this is one of those ideas that's just too good to pass up. A state that puts up with collecting only 58 percent of its court-ordered child support payments ought to do all it can to do better by its children.*