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Indiana's Freedom of Religion Bill May Drive Gen Con Gaming Convention Away from Indianapolis

( [email protected] ) Mar 25, 2015 01:17 AM EDT
Indiana lawmakers just approved a controversial new bill that would protect business owners from refusing service to same-sex couples, but the owners of several prominent Indiana businesses, including the Gen Con gaming convention, are now threatening to leave the state over it.
Gen Con organizers are threatening to pull out of Indiana if a freedom of religion bill passes into law. Photo: Doing Indy

Indiana lawmakers just approved a controversial new bill that would protect business owners from refusing service to same-sex couples, but the owners of several prominent Indiana businesses, including the Gen Con gaming convention, are now threatening to leave the state over it.

Called the Freedom of Religion Bill, the new legislation was passed by the Republican-run House by a vote of 63-31. While it's not yet a law, Senate approval is likely as a similar piece of legislation was passed just last month.

"It's important that we allow our citizens to hold religious beliefs, maybe even those we might be appalled by, and to be able to express those," said Rep. Tom Washburne, R-Inglefield.

But the state's largest annual convention, and the country's largest tabletop gaming convention held at the Indianapolis Convention Center each year, is threatening to pull out of Indiana if the bill becomes a law.

Gen Con was started in 1968 by Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and moved around various Wisconsin cities until 2003 when it settled in Indianapolis. 

"For more than a decade, Indianapolis has provided tremendous hospitality and accommodation to our attendees, culminating in an estimated annual economic impact of more than $50 million dollars to the city," Gen Con LLC CEO and owner Adrian Swartout wrote to Indiana governor Mike Pence in an open letter. Swartout says that the convention has hosted more than 56,000 atendees from more than 40 countries last year alone. But if this Freedom of Religion bill becomes a law, Swartout says that it will "have a direct negative impact on the state's economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years."

Seattle's Gen Con LLC currently holds a contract with Indianapolis' Visit Indy group to host Gen Con through the year 2020, but Swartout's letter indicates that that may end soon.

Other prominent Indiana businesses, including Salesforce, Cummins, and Eskenazi Health have expressed similar concerns with the legislation, stating that it may encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians in the state.

"It basically says to a group of people you're second rate, you don't matter, and if you walk into my store, I don't have to serve you," said Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.

While debating the measure on Monday, both Republican and Democrat lawmakers cited scripture to make their cases, but the underlying message from supporters was that religious freedom of any shape should be protected.

"The legislation, SB 101, is about respecting and reassuring Hoosiers that their religious freedoms are intact," said Govorner Pence after Monday's vote. "I strongly support the legislation and applaud the members of the General Assembly for their work on this important issue. I look forward to signing the bill when it reaches my desk."