The chief executive officer of one of the largest annual conventions in downtown Indianapolis is expressing concern over legislation that would create a near-total abortion ban. Gen Con kicks off its four-day event Thursday at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium, and CEO David Hoppe says if the bill passes through the Indiana General Assembly, it “will make it more difficult for us to remain committed to Indiana as our long-term annual home.” The convention is currently slated to remain in Indy through 2026.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday morning, Hoppe said he wants to make the convention’s position clear.
“We feel it’s important for our community to know where we stand. We only get a chance once a year to state that, and so we just wanted to be clear with that up front and not create a whole bunch of speculation,” said Hoppe. “This has come on us pretty fast. Once we finish here and get back and take a breather and figure out of course what’s happening here, and then we’ll figure out our next strategy from there.”
Senate Bill 1, which was narrowly approved by the Indiana Senate last weekend, outlaws nearly all abortions in the state, with exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies, rape, incest and the life and health of the mother. On Tuesday, the House Courts and Criminal Code committee advanced the bill to the House floor.
Gen Con released a statement earlier in the morning outlining its position.
Gen Con’s statement is the first from a major trade show or convention to speak out against the legislation. However, Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl says other conventions are paying attention to the bill’s movement through the Statehouse.
“There are a handful of conventions and meetings that have proactively reached out and asked clarifying questions about Senate Bill 1, and so we’ve been very factual with our responses,” said Gahl. “All of our large annual conventions are constantly being peppered by other cities asking them to pull out and come over to their city. So, we viciously protect groups like Gen Con and work year round to … grow them [in Indianapolis]. With that in mind, our nonprofit will keep working with Gen Con to keep them safe and sound.”
One Gen Con vendor, Washington-based Lone Shark Games, announced Monday it had decided not to attend the convention because of the legislation going through the Statehouse.
“Though we are sorry to miss our friends and our fans, we feel it is important to not even tacitly support those who would rob people their basic human right to bodily autonomy and medical privacy,” the company said in a statement on Twitter.
This year’s Gen Con is a return to full capacity, though it will come with some caveats. Attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks for all indoor activities.
Hoppe said the decision was made in January. “We’ve tried to be consistent the whole way just so the people can know what to expect, and given the way the pandemic is going right now, we think this is absolutely the best choice.”
In 2019, Gen Con drew more than 70,000 attendees to downtown Indy and was canceled the following year due to the pandemic. Last year’s event was held at 50% capacity and drew more than 35,000 attendees, generating an estimated $37 million in economic impact for the city.
Gen Con officials are projecting this year’s event to reach more than 75% of pre-pandemic numbers.