Gen Con weighs leaving Indiana in wake of 'religious freedom' law

Following Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's signing of the controversial "religious freedom" bill into law, Gen Con organizers announced Thursday they've begun "discussions" about whether to remain in Indianapolis once their contract expires in 2020.

Gen Con owner and CEO Adrian Swartout issued an open letter earlier this week urging the governor to veto the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, cautioning 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."

The law, which goes into effect July 1, prohibits state and local governments from "substantially burdening" a person's exercise of religion unless a compelling government interest can be proved. Although the language of the legislation doesn't mention sexual orientation, it's been widely criticized as opening the door to legalized discrimination, as business owners could cite religious beliefs as a basis for denying service to gays and lesbians. (Pence argues that interpretation is a "misunderstanding," saying at a press conference, ""This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination I would have vetoed it.")

In a letter written Thursday to Gen Con attendees, Swartout notes that Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and numerous local businesses spoke out against the law. "It is clear that the Indianapolis business community is not in favor of the state's legislation," she emphasized. "We have received hundreds of messages from industry members and Indianapolis companies doubling down on their support to welcome all Gen Con attendees."

The convention has been held since 2003 in Indianapolis, where it has an estimated $50 million annual impact on the economy. However, whether Gen Con will be in the city in 2021 appears to be up in the air.

"Planning and bidding four our convention is a long-term process that begins five years prior to a contract-term commencement," Swartout explained. "Discussions, whether to remain in Indy or move elsewhere, have begun."

Of course, Gen Con isn't alone in reevaluating whether to do business in Indiana. Salesforce Marketing Cloud Division reacted swiftly to Pence's private signing, with CEO Mike Benioff announcing Thursday that the tech company is "canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination," while NCAA President Mark Emmert issued a statement saying, "we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."

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