Survey: Religious objections law cost millions

This July 30, 2016 file photo people dressed as gaming characters as they take the escalator in the convention hall at the Gen Con gaming convention in Indianapolis. Tourism officials say Indiana may have lost as much as $60 million in revenue after a dozen conventions picked cities other than Indianapolis amid the uproar over the state’s controversial religious objections law.

This July 30, 2016 file photo people dressed as gaming characters as they take the escalator in the convention hall at the Gen Con gaming convention in Indianapolis. Tourism officials say Indiana may have lost as much as $60 million in revenue after a dozen conventions picked cities other than Indianapolis amid the uproar over the state’s controversial religious objections law. AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana may have lost as much as $60 million in hotel profits, tax revenue and other economic benefits when a dozen groups decided against hosting conventions in Indianapolis last year due at least in part to the controversy surrounding the state’s religious objections law.

A document prepared by the tourism group Visit Indy shows that the 12 out-of-state groups were surveyed and all said that the state’s controversial law played a role in their decision to hold their events elsewhere. The document was obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its formal release Thursday.

The Republican-backed law garnered quick and largely negative national backlash after it was signed by Gov. Mike Pence in March, with critics saying it sanctioned discrimination against gay people on religious grounds. Lawmakers hastily made changes days later, after the NCAA, the gamer convention GenCon and other business interests raised the possibility of moving events, but critics said the law still doesn’t go far enough to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination.

The findings by Visit Indy are among the first to quantify the law’s financial effect, an impact that social conservatives have skeptically downplayed. Visit Indy also is among several prominent Indiana business voices advocating for statewide protections for anyone fired from a job, denied service or evicted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the group’s surveys, Indianapolis tourism officials asked the conventions why they chose to locate in other states, without specifically mentioning the controversial law. All 12 cited the law — and the backlash it provoked — as one reason for choosing another city, said Chris Gahl, vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Indy.

“We’d say, ‘Why didn’t you select Indy?’ and they proactively cited (the law) as a reason they did not select Indianapolis,” Gahl said when asked about the document. “That is not news you want to hear when you are in the business of marketing a city.”

In an emailed statement Monday, Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said Indiana was a “welcoming” state with a strong economy. She noted multiple organizations that have expanded their role or recommitted to hosting conventions and events in the state, including the NFL scouting combine and the Future Farmers of America.

Gahl declined to name the 12 conventions or detail their individual financial impacts. Visit Indy typically considers hotel room rentals, meal purchases, entertainment expenditures and shopping figures, as well as state and local taxes, when calculating those figures.

The AP independently confirmed that one organization, the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, bypassed Indianapolis due in part to the law. Indianapolis was a finalist after the group decided to no longer hold its four-day event in Las Vegas, said Marla Calico, the association’s president and CEO.

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