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Indiana’s relationship with Gen Con faces a rocky future in wake of state’s abortion ban

“Passage of Senate Bill 1… will make it more difficult for us to remain committed to Indiana for our long-term home.”

Gen Con 2019 show floor
Image credit: Gen Con

Gen Con 2022 is in the rearview mirror after bringing a reported 50,000 attendees to Indianapolis, Indiana last weekend for the annual tabletop RPG and board game convention. But a sweeping abortion ban in the state has threatened future conventions and already led some vendors and publishers to back out.

Gen Con’s 5-day gathering was already marred by several incidents, including a harassment campaign and the fact that the very much not over COVID-19 pandemic poses a significant health risk despite mask and vaccine mandates in place. The most looming cloud proved to be the state’s almost-complete abortion ban signed into law on August 5th, just as Gen Con was opening its doors to the public.

As reported by Indiana Public Media, Indiana governor Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 1 into law on August 5th soon after the state’s senate voted 28-19 to pass full prohibition on abortion at any stage of a pregnancy, barring some rare exceptions.Gen Con’s President, David Hoppe, made a statement ahead of the bill’s passing that such legislation would call the convention’s relationship with Indiana into serious question.

Matt and Wheels attended Gen COn 2022 and brought daily reports from the show floor on all the interesting board games they could find.Watch on YouTube

“Passage of Senate Bill 1 will have an impact on our stakeholders and attendees and will make it more difficult for us to remain committed to Indiana for our long-term home,” Hoppe said. “We are committed here through 2026. We do have to think about what that means beyond that and, of course, we would have to look at what that means for the period up until that time.”

Polygon reported that Gen Con brought $74.6 million into the city of Indianapolis in 2019, one of the largest turnouts for the convention, ranking it within the top three money-making events since it began hosting the gathering there in 2003. The revenue brought in on the back of attendees, vendors and other patrons would constitute a 10% loss to the piece of the economic pie that all conventions bring in.

Gen Con further stated its intent in a pair of tweets on August 3rd, reiterating that the law affects not only the people who live in Indiana but the staff who work the convention and the community surrounding the event, both in person and online. The company has not made any direct actions towards moving away from Indianapolis. As Hoppe said, Gen Con is contractually locked to the city for another four years. But it’s clear the subject is being raised internally, which is likely enough to make businesses and elected officials sweat the potential loss.

Several designers and convention vendors joined Gen Con in raising their opposition to Senate Bill 1, such as the creators of indigenous science fantasy RPG Coyote & Crow - they disavowed ever purchasing booth space while Indiana’s abortion laws remained in place. Lone Shark Games, a design studio responsible for the Apocrypha Adventure Card Game and Thornwatch, pulled out of Gen Con on August 1st after it became clear that Indiana’s senate would pass the anti-abortion bill with little pushback.

“With this latest decision, Lone Shark Games and its staff are not comfortable supporting the state of Indiana with our presence, so we have made the decision not to attend this year’s Gen Con,” the statement reads. “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 of their basic human right to bodily autonomy and medical privacy.”

Applying this kind of economic pressure can lead to results. In fact, Gen Con already succeeded with this strategy in 2015 when, as Polygon writes, the convention threatened to move its business elsewhere over the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation colloquially known as the “religious freedom bill”. Indiana’s senate eventually pushed through a version with steep modifications to the would-be protections for business owners to deny service to same-sex partners. Whether Gen Con will follow suit now is unclear, but its statement and continued pressure from designers and businesses could be the first salvo in a nasty fiscal battle.

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