Gen Con Threatens To Take Popular Convention, And Millions, Out Of Indiana Over Religious Freedom Bill

America's Largest Gaming Convention Threatens To Leave Indiana Over Anti-Gay Bill

Organizers of Gen Con, said to be the largest gaming convention in the U.S., have threatened to take their event -- and potentially millions of dollars -- out of Indiana if Governor Mike Pence (R) signs a controversial religious freedom bill into law.

Senate Bill 101 will prohibit state and local governments from “substantially burdening someone’s religious beliefs, unless that entity can prove it’s relying on the least restrictive means possible to further a compelling governmental interest," MSNBC reports.

Supporters of the bill say that the legislation will protect people and business owners with strong religious beliefs from government interference. Opponents contend that the law could sanction discrimination, particularly against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

"Gen Con proudly welcomes a diverse attendee base, made up of different ethnicities, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds," Adrian Swartout, owner and CEO of Gen Con, wrote in a letter sent to Pence this week. "Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees 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.”

Gen Con claims to be the “longest-running, best-attended, gaming convention in the world.” According to Swartout, more than 56,000 people attended the convention at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis last year. Swartout added that the convention pumps “more than $50 million dollars [into] the city” annually.

According to the Indianapolis Star, Gen Con is under contract to host the event in Indianapolis through 2020. A spokesperson told the news outlet that though there are currently “no plans to break the contract,” the state’s decision on the religious freedom bill “would factor into future decisions.”

Indiana’s Republican-controlled Senate gave the measure final approval on Tuesday with a 40-10 vote. The bill is now awaiting Pence’s signature.

In recent days, several personalities, including Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, first openly gay pro athlete Jason Collins and "Star Trek" actor George Takei, have spoken out against the bill.

On Facebook Tuesday, Takei wrote:

The Governor of Indiana has indicated that he will sign SB101—a law that allows businesses to discriminate against...

Posted by George Takei on Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Visit Indy, the tourism bureau for Indianapolis, has expressed concern that the legislation could greatly impact tourism to the city. Losing Gen Con, in particular, “would be a huge loss,” Visit Indy vice president Chris Gahl told WXIN.

“Anytime something impacts our ability to market Indianapolis and drive convention business, we of course get concerned,” Gahl said.

Pence appears determined to sign the bill. Responding to Gen Con's letter, a spokesperson told the Indianapolis Star: "The governor has been clear on where he stands on this issue and we don't have anything to add at this time."

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