Deadbeat parents who hit a big casino jackpot may have to give the cash to their kids if a proposed bill becomes law in Indiana.
The legislation, which a Senate committee considered Wednesday, would withhold gambling winnings from parents who are behind on their child support payments. Supporters, including Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, said the idea makes sense in a state where just 58 percent of child support payments are collected.
More than 165,000 noncustodial parents each owe more $2,000 in back child support, which adds up to more than $2 billion in delinquencies, according to the state Department of Child Services, which is pushing the legislation.
“We do not believe that a parent who’s having difficulty paying child support should be out gambling,” said Stuart Showalter, with Indiana Shared Parenting, a group that advocates for equal joint custody.
But Indiana casinos don’t like the bill. The Casino Association of Indiana worries the legislation would cause a two-minute delay on casino floors while names of winners are checked against an electronic list of people owing child support.
Two minutes doesn’t seem like much time in most situations, association president Mike Smith said, but casinos are fast-paced environments.
“People hit a jackpot — they want to be paid,” Smith said. “You’re going to have angry people.”
Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, said the state created the gambling industry and casinos need to play by its rules. The state is simply asking for the same help in collecting child support that banks, insurance companies and other industries provide, he said.
“I’m not too sympathetic,” he told Smith.
Casinos already must generate tax forms for people who win more than $1,200 on slot machines and more than $600 from certain types of other gambling. Proposal supporters say it seems reasonable to check for deadbeat parents among those winners.
Casinos also already check names of winners against a list of people who voluntarily ask to be denied casino access. But Smith said searching an outside database of people who owe child support could be problematic since not all casino floors have Internet access.
Also, more than half of casino gamblers are from out of state, so the chances of catching deadbeat parents are relatively small, he said. Smith also argued that child support collections are the government’s responsibility, not the role of private business.
“While we believe parents should take responsibility and pay their child support and be responsible for their children, we would prefer not to have to be forced to take over a government function,” Smith said. “We view it somewhat as being singled out.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, said Indiana casinos had a choice: “Would you rather that we — if the committee sees fit, if the Legislature sees fit — arbitrarily create a system, or would you rather work with us to make a system that would be less burdensome for you?”
The committee could make changes to the bill next week. Some lawmakers suggested increasing the amount of winnings that would trigger a database search, and Bray said other amendments could be considered. The committee could take a vote on the bill next week.
Other states have considered similar proposals and heard similar arguments from casinos. Indiana’s legislation was modeled after Colorado’s system, said James Payne, director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Colorado collected more than $600,000 in gambling winnings in the first year of the law, which took effect in July 2008. The state collected $320 million in child support overall out of $1 billion owed.
Colorado casinos also have complained the law is a headache to enforce. But lawmakers there say casinos are unique because of their large cash payoffs and they just have to deal with the new rules.
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