Real Money Online Gambling in Indiana

Indiana embodies the great progress that we have made with gambling in the United States very well, considering that they went from a state that had no authorized gambling for well over a century to one of the most progressive states in the country in just a few short decades, during a time where gambling has seen a great revival throughout much of the country.

In one stroke of a pen, Indiana got caught up, where they authorized the lottery, pari-mutuel horse race betting, and land-based casinos located over water, where operators scrambled to build facilities in the aftermath of this major change of heart. Over two decades later, in 2019, the doors swung open to online gambling, even though this has been limited to real money online sports betting thus far.

You never know when the door will open again, as the past hasn’t been such a good guide in this state anyway, where it normally takes a considerable evolution from nothing to a well-stocked gambling cupboard. We’ll take you through the history of gambling in Indiana, to where we are now, and why the official view of what Indianans can and can’t do when it comes to gambling does not provide the whole picture.

Gambling History in Indiana

Indiana Online Casinos and SlotsWhen Indiana became a state in 1816, there were no laws at all against gambling. It wasn’t until 1851 that Indiana got its first law against gambling, where a public referendum was held to seek to make lotteries illegal in the state. A law banning lotteries was passed, and although this law only applied to lotteries and not other forms, the courts in Indiana interpreted this law as banning all forms of gambling.

For the next 137 years, the only gambling that happened in Indiana occurred underground. The state didn’t really put all that much effort in enforcing this trumped up anti-gambling law, but it did serve to prevent any above board gambling operations from being present, and as long as things were done quietly, no one seemed to be too bothered by it.

Indiana voters went to the polls again in 1988, and this time amending the state constitution to allow gambling was on the ballot. It passed, and things finally started to open up after such an incredibly long hiatus.

This referendum did allow for the Hoosier Lottery to be set up, which ended up being pretty successful, as state lotteries tend to be, especially after being absent for so long. Indiana wasn’t quite ready for casinos though, at least yet.

The mayor of Gary, just across the state line from Chicago, immediately held a local referendum to build a riverboat casino, which achieved 60% of the vote. The state government said no, and voted down 2 more attempts to legalize casinos in 1991 and 1992, and both failed. After another failed attempt in 1993, a breakthrough was reached, where the state agreed to license up to 11 “riverboat” casinos.

The Indiana cities in the Chicago area got casinos first. Indiana’s first casino ever was built in Hammond in 1995, and the next year, neighboring city Gary got two of them, one owned by Donald Trump. These were actual boats, although they weren’t permitted on the Great Lakes due to a law preventing it, and had to offer phantom “cruises” where the boats remained docked as passengers gambled onboard to their hearts’ content.

As ridiculous as allowing real money gambling on a docked boat or a building on stilts over the water may be, but not on land, this is what it took for the Indiana government to get comfortable enough with allowing casinos in their state, and if pretending that gambling over their territorial waters was somehow less objectionable was what it took to get this deal done, at least this was progress.

Indiana is certainly not alone in having this strange perversion towards gambling, and this all came from the practice of allowing riverboats on the Mississippi to sail by your state where you could pretend it wasn’t happening in your state. There was certainly regulatory issues with travelling through multiple states on rivers, where the laws of different states would need to apply as the boats travel up and down major rivers, and even big casino resorts still sit over the water on stilts in Mississippi, where they are exposed to hurricane damage just because it’s so special to be sitting over water.

Several more riverboat casinos were built in the coming years, and around the time the state’s first casinos were built, in 1994, Indiana got its first pari-mutuel track, with a second added in 2002. Both of these racetracks were later given a slots license to turn them into racinos.

1994 also saw Indiana’s Indian tribe get federally recognized, allowing them to build casinos. After years of battles in the court with the state, they finally built their first casino in 2018, although they had to settle for a Class II with only slots being permitted. It remains the sole Native casino in the state.

A bill to license and regulate sports betting was passed in 2019, which was another stroke of the pen that was heard around the state. They jumped in with both feet once again, allowing their casinos to both offer land based and online sports betting.

Indiana Gambling Laws

Some state gambling laws are better written than others, and Indiana’s falls on the lower end of the scale, although the reasons may not be that obvious. While they create way too much uncertainty as far as how this law may be applied to certain forms of wagering, the biggest issue is the lack of cohesiveness within their definition of what could be deemed illegal gambling.

These errors aren’t just limited to Indiana’s law, but we should expect all states to carefully review laws before they pass them, and also revisit them from time to time to revise them as required, to at least avoid our being able to poke so much fun at them.

Indiana’s definition of gambling starts out pretty well, making betting on anything based upon chance in whole and in part, and operating gambling devices are also a crime. So far so good perhaps, although they surely should have realized that betting on things not dependent on chance at all would be clearly outside the scope of this gambling definition, and therefore not rendered illegal.

Two exceptions are provided, and this is where things start to turn a little strange. The first exception is betting on a “bona fide contest of skill,” and the second involves business transactions that are “valid under the law of contracts.”

We’re left to speculate about what might distinguish games of skill that are “bona fide,” and some might consider poker to be of this sort, given that in the long run poker really is a game of skill, when the luck evens out and everyone gets their fair share. The exception does require that only the participants receive awards, so this would not allow commercial poker, and we might want to say that winning pots may not constitute “awards,” although prizes in poker tournaments might.

If we argue that bona fide skill here means pure skill, this is not consistent with it being an exception, as we need to have them included first before they can be excluded. There has to be some element of chance, however small, in whatever “bona fide contests of skill” ends up being, and there’s no real direction given, leaving the decision at the discretion of the court basically.

The second exception is simply bizarre. The law of contracts involve the way promises between parties are enforced, and the only way this remotely connects to gambling law is that contracts involving illegal activities are unenforceable. This exception is therefore not even intelligible as to what it may or may not permit, unless we set aside any presumptions of illegality, which we must for this provision to be meaningful, to decide what it is illegal or not as it seeks to do I its inclusion, whereby it would be legal to enter into any contract to gamble.

That’s surely not the intent as this would negate the whole law essentially, where all operators then would need to do is show they had a valid contract in effect, which does not require a written contract but can also be valid by way of even an oral agreement. They could just get players to sign a contract and turn Indiana into Vegas.

It would be presumptuous to infer anything from this exemption actually, and it just sits there like dead wood. We surely don’t want to think that it was put in there because people were worried that their non-gambling business transactions were somehow subject to Indiana’s gambling laws and they can now rest easier. It’s hard to make any sense out of this being in the law.

The law does allow for social and charitable gambling, which serve as further exemptions. Bookmaking is specifically made illegal, as is pool selling, operating commercial gambling machines, or operating any banked game where the house has a stake.

It does specifically mention “banked,” and this may leave the door open for time based card rooms like they have in California, which are non-banked, but this would be at the pleasure of the state due to licensure preferences, as you can’t just open a business like this without a license.

This is really what it all comes down to with land-based gambling anyway, where states control what is allowed to operate by choosing to license it or not. Indiana does allow social gambling, so it comes down to playing all you want in private but being limited to whatever the state permits as far as public land-based gambling goes.

Land-Based Gambling in Indiana

Indiana finally deciding to finally approve gambling after a 137 year absence has beckoned in a new era for gambling in the state, where at once, they opened the doors to the lottery, betting on horses, and casinos.

After the referendum to allow for gambling in Indiana was passed in 1988, which actually only overturned a constitutional amendment banning lotteries, even though this was viewed by the government as a general ban on all gambling, the lottery made an immediate comeback. The Hoosier Lottery sold its first ticket a year later, in 1989, and have been thriving ever since.

1989 also saw the approval of pari-mutuel wagering in the state, but the state needed a pari-mutuel racetrack to go along with this before the betting could start. 5 years later, in 1994, Hoosier Park in Anderson, near Indianapolis, was opened, with off-track betting being offered as well a year later.

Hoosier Park was originally owned by Churchill Downs of Kentucky Derby fame, and was sold in 2007 to a company looking to bring in slots according to their new license they were granted to become a racino. The track is currently owned by Caesar’s Entertainment, offering horse racing from April to November, a 92,000 square foot slot parlor, 9 restaurants, 3 bars, and live shows.

In 2002, Indiana Downs, also in the Indianapolis area, opened up for horse racing, who also benefited from being able to add slots in 2007. It became named Indiana Grand, with 233,000 square feet of gambling space, and have now added table games to their array of slots. They have now also been approved to offer sports betting. This is now not just a racino but a real casino with racing on the side.

In addition to these 2 racinos, Indiana has 12 casinos, with 8 of them being deemed riverboat casinos, which just means that they are over water. Some are actual boats though, that do take you out on the water, like the Ameristar Casino East Chicago. This is a big cruise ship with a 288 hotel rooms, 1,900 slot machines, and 40 table games including a high limit room.

The Hollywood Casino Lawrenceburg is another large casino boat, with a gaming capacity of 4,500 patrons. The Belterra Casino Resort and Spa does not look anything like a boat, but rather a hotel over the water, with 608 rooms and a 47,000 square foot casino. The Blue Chip Casino Hotel and Spa is built to look like a skyscraper, with 22 stories and 65,000 square feet of gambling space.

The City of Gary finally got their casino after a hard fight with the state, with not one but two riverboat casinos, structures built over the water. They started out as the Majestic Star Casino and the Trump Casino, which Majestic star bought and renamed Majestic Star II. Nearby Hammond also feasts on the huge Chicagoland market, which has no casinos of its own, with its Horseshoe Hammond and its massive 350,000 square foot casino.

The Rising Star rounds out Indiana’s riverboat casinos, with its two hotels, one 200 rooms and the other 104 rooms, and its 40,000 square feet of casino space. Indiana no longer requires casinos to be over water, but the ones that were built during the time where this was a requirement are still thriving.

Indiana has 4 casinos built on land. When the French Lick Resort Casino was built in 2006, the over water rule was still in effect, but it was on the way out, so they initially surrounded the casino with a moat. Two years later, the law changed, and they filled in the moat. It has a modest sized casino of 38,000 square feet, but features two hotels with a total room count of 686, and two championship golf courses.

The Caesar’s Southern Indiana, in the Louisville area used to be the biggest riverboat in North America until it was converted to a land based facility, and now boasts a 503 room hotel and a 110,000 square foot casino. The Tropicana Evansville has 350 rooms and a 45,000 square foot casino and is operated by Caesar’s as well.

The Four Winds South Bend Casino and resort, a tribal gaming facility, rounds out the list of Indiana’s casinos. The Indians fought hard to get this built, from the time that casinos were first allowed in the state, and didn’t get it built until years later, in 2018. In order to get the deal done, the tribe had to agree to offer slots only, giving us an interesting situation of the Indians in a state having less gambling options than the general public.

Indiana Online Casinos & Slots Gambling

Indiana has opened their minds toward gambling lately, which includes both having 14 physical casinos and allowing them to offer both in person and online sports betting. Indiana also now has 9 online sports which allow sports bettors from all over the state to enjoy betting on their favorite sports.

This still leaves poker and casino out in the cold, but there is at least a movement afoot to get a bill passed that would authorize real money online poker and real money online casino games, although the idea does need to catch on more to become a reality.

COVID-19 has taken its toll on Indiana’s casinos, and with their revenues being cut by 50%, some legislators are looking longingly at the potential for online casino and poker, which social distancing rules do not apply to, and are a perfect venue and a way to raise money for a state when land-based revenues are suffering like they are now.

A bill now has been drafted to extend Indiana’s online sports betting to casino and poker, and the bite that COVID has taken out of the economy and state coffers this year does serve to exert more force on state legislators to better reconcile their willing to let people gamble at a land-based casino but being unwilling to let them do it in a completely socially distanced manner.

The argument that the existing operators may not wish the competition that this bill would create for them has been fully resolved by the bill giving control of these sites to these existing operators, as they did with online sports betting. It is probably only a matter of time until this more rational approach prevails.

The Indiana Gaming Commission has prescribed the type of sports betting that may be wagered on at its regulated real money sports betting sites, which does include all of the major North American sports, but not all are included, nor is betting on foreign sporting events. Indiana’s sports betting has not cornered the market in Indiana though, as offshore options still are available should one wish, just like offshore real money online poker and casino sites remain out there.

Whatever Indiana ends up wishing to support in the world of online gaming, Indiana regulated sites simply stand among all the other options out there, where players may choose between a site regulated by their state or by another jurisdiction elsewhere.

It is therefore not as important as a lot of people think whether Indiana licenses any form of real money online gambling or not. It’s not that it is not a good thing for online gambling to be expanded in Indiana or elsewhere, but we need to understand that this only expands the market not creates it, and when we are speaking of online enterprises, state borders do not serve as any limitation to it.

Sports betting has never been against the law in Indiana, and while the current law does ban betting on games of chance, these laws can only be enforced when the gambling is both offered and engaged in within a jurisdiction, and online steps well beyond a state and even the country’s borders and is much like a state not wanting you to gamble in Monte Carlo but without the means to be able to tell if you are gambling there or not.

This is a law without the means to police it, and the only practical consideration when looking to gamble online is if sites are willing to take you. State regulated gambling does serve to reduce the market for offshore gambling, but as long as there are sites still willing to take you, you can play wherever you want.

Future of Gambling in Indiana

Indiana has surely come a long way since the dark ages, where lotteries were banned by an amendment to Indiana’s state constitution for so many years and this was understood as a ban on all gambling period. The law ultimately says what the courts say it does, and this is a great example of why you sometimes need to appeal decisions as judges do not always apply the law correctly, and are prone to some huge mistakes at times, which this is an example of.

Just like removing the lottery from the state constitution magically removed all gambling with it, reinstituting lotteries opened the doors to the possibility for anything to be made legal, and that’s exactly what happened. The job is only partially complete, as the ideal here is to use regulation to protect players from unscrupulous operators while leaving the choice of how much gambling people want to do up to the people.

We protect consumers with food safety laws though but do not seek to ration food just because we may feel that some may eat too much where we may feel that they are doing a disservice to themselves. Aside from being unjustified, such paternalism may not properly account for the costs and benefits, and take a decidedly biased view, such as how long you may live is the sole goal, where eating too much may limit that, without accounting for the role of the enjoyment of eating that also weighs in on this decision from the perspective of rationality.

This is what Indiana needs to come to grips with as they reflect upon their current approach, regulating gambling like some sort of balance needs to be achieved to seek to limit the amount of gambling people do by restricting the number and locations of their casinos not based upon market demand, as is the case with everything else, but based upon the principle that states should limit access to gambling to achieve policy goals that they are not justified in setting.

It is actually the land-based scene that they have control of, not the online realm, and authorizing online gambling only really serves for them to tax this gambling rather than have it exist untaxed. Perhaps their getting a taste of this with online sports betting will whet their appetite more, but this needs to be viewed together with the stark realization of the fact that the state of Indiana is powerless against online gambling in general, where the fact that they may not wish players to gamble at offshore sites is not just toothless but not even meaningful from a practical perspective.

Indiana is at least moving in the right direction with their finally regulating sports betting, and while this progress is likely to continue, there is plenty more to do. Meanwhile, players in the know will continue to consider all of their options, including even selecting a real money sports betting site they prefer over the ones that the state approves, as with all online betting, the final decision about where to play always resides with the player, not the state.

Indiana Online Slots & Casinos FAQs
  • When did legal gambling in Indiana first start?

    All forms of gambling were perfectly legal during the first few decades of Indiana’s statehood. It wasn’t until the mid 19th century that Indiana had its first law against gambling, explicitly banning lotteries but understood to ban all forms of gambling, including social gambling. Gambling took 137 years to come back, but this recent wave isn’t the state allowing it for the first time, it is allowing it once again.

  • What does Indiana’s current gambling law prohibit?

    Indiana law makes it a crime to wager on anything based in whole or in part on chance, with several exceptions. Betting on events that are completely based upon skill is left out, intentionally or not, and it may not have been due to intention but instead due to carelessness. Social and unbanked games have also been excluded, as has approved charitable gambling.

  • Why does Indiana condone social gambling but not certain forms of commercial gambling?

    Allowing social gambling without restriction, as Indiana does, but placing restrictions on commercial real money gambling does imply that gambling in itself is totally acceptable, but third parties need to be regulated. Aside from the valid concern about protecting players from unfair or undisclosed practices, the state also uses this regulation as a means to favor certain geographical areas over others as part of the approval process, geographical rationing if you will.

  • Should Indiana completely open up land-based gambling licensure?

    We might think there are regulatory challenges in treating gambling like any other form of business, where you just apply for a business license and have your fate decided by the market. However, we manage to do that with other types of business that also require fairly close monitoring such as those in the food industry, where safety standards need to be maintained. There is no particularly good reason why any state should restrict the gambling market beyond seeking to promote the interests of players, and restricting it does the opposite.

  • What land-based gambling options does Indiana have now?

    For its size, Indiana is pretty well stocked with casinos, with a total of 14, including one tribal casino. Indiana serves a lot bigger gambling market than just those within its state borders, as it borders several major cities in other states, including Chicago, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Other than the sole tribal casino, Indiana land-based casinos offer a full range of casino games and poker, and now include sports betting to round out their options.

  • What real money online gambling options does Indiana have?

    Indiana has very recently approved sport betting online, operated by existing land-based casino operators, that allow residents to place wagers on one or more of their 9 licensed sports betting sites. Some may think that online sports betting has now finally come to Indiana, although players from Indiana have been betting on sports, playing online poker, and enjoying real money online casino games for many years now.

  • Does it make sense for Indiana to favor sports betting over other online gambling?

    We are left to speculate on why Indiana prefers online sports betting and still disfavors other forms of online gambling, but a lot of this may stem from the view that sports betting is something where skill can be used to profit from the betting, unlike with casino games which make this mathematically impossible in the aggregate. Poker is similar to sports betting though insofar as the game being beatable with skill, so perhaps the state needs to rethink their objectives.

  • Are Indianans limited to just the 9 sports betting sites that the state has licensed?

    There is no question that sports bettors from Indiana can access the 9 sites that the state has now approved, and when a state regulates a certain form of online gambling, that is seen by many to settle the matter as far as people continuing to bet at offshore sites. Adding more options does not in itself get rid of any existing options, and this all comes down to what offshore sites will still accept players from a state where the state has their own regulated sites.

  • Does it even matter if Indiana ever gets around to licensing online casino and poker?

    Being able to play or bet at a state regulated site does serve to sidestep the issue of the limited funding options that offshore real money gambling sites involve, even though players have never had much trouble moving money to and from these sites. If you wish to use more traditional options like credit cards or popular internet wallets, state regulated gambling does open up these options for you, but only if the options exist. Otherwise, people are free to play at any site that will accept them, anywhere in the world.

  • Are there any issues with a state like Indiana licensing online poker sites?

    Online poker presents some unique challenges that we do not see with other forms of online gambling like casino gambling and sports betting. The ring-fencing approach that has been used in the U.S. thus far may not work that well in a state like Indiana, which may not have enough player interest to have ring-fenced sites compete with larger offshore ones. The solution is to network American poker sites, which is not being considered at this time.

  • Do Indianans need to wait for the state to license casino and poker sites?

    Indiana players need to ask themselves what would stop them from gambling online all they want now. There are indeed some practical considerations, like needing a way to access the internet, having the money to wager with, and finding good sites that will accept your business. The state’s preference for this one way or another is not a practical consideration. Those who have both the will and the means do not need to wait to enjoy our recommended sites for Indianans. The person that decides this is you.

Lead Writer: Toby is a very experienced online gambler who particularly enjoys sharing his knowledge with others and guiding them toward more enjoyment in their own play.