Indiana Investigation Could Endanger New Casino Projects

A casino executive’s illegal political contributions to a lawmaker could endanger Indiana casino projects in Gary and Terry Haute.

The investigation that is centered around longtime Indiana casino executive, John Keeler, has expanded to ten people allegedly involved in financial misconduct that is tantamount to violation of the state’s casino regulations or laws.

Spectacle Entertainment that owns the Gary casino located along Lake Michigan is currently pursuing a $300 million replacement inland casino in Gary and a $125 million establishment in Terre Haute. However, the owners have been under state scrutiny since the company executives have been linked to allegations that they funneled corporate money illegally to a former lawmaker’s 2016 fruitless congressional campaign.

Brent Waltz is the lawmaker in question. He is a former state senator who ran for a congressional seat in 2016 but remained unsuccessful. The former senator was charged with allegedly making conduit contributions, false statements, and obstructing justice.

Long Active Lobbyists

Both of John Keeler and Rod Ratcliff, executives of Spectacle Entertainment, allegedly “influenced” lawmakers in 2019 to allow Gary’s casino to move from Lake Michigan to a more commercially viable location in Gary and allow Terry Haute to become the first new casino in Indiana since 2008.

State authorities suspended the casino licenses of John Keeler in September after he was linked to taking part in the illegal political contributions. Earlier this year, Indiana casino officials forced Keeler and Rod Ratcliff to renounce their ownership stake in the Terre Haute casino. However, a business partner was allowed to continue with the project.

Keeler and Ratcliff have been active lobbyists in the state legislature for years on casino matters. They were also the co-owners of the two central Indiana horse track casinos before they were sold to Caesars Entertainment in 2018 for a whopping $1.7 billion.

Unlike Keeler, Ratcliff is not charged with the federal indictment, nor does he face any criminal charges. Yet, he resigned in June as Spectacle’s chairman and CEO. However, he has been allowed to retain his ownership stake.

“Zero Tolerance Policy for Illegal Gaming Activities”

During a Monday meeting, Gaming Commission board member Susan Williams said that regulators should be decisive about this “unprecedented” situation. She added that a deadline is required for “a plan to convince us that we don’t need to suspend this license.”

Commission members demand a report by December in order to take action. Chairman Michael McMains asserted they must have a “zero-tolerance policy of illegal gaming activities.” Though the investigators did not identify those under investigation, one official said their suitability and ability to continue to hold licenses is in serious doubt.

Spectacle “Fully Cooperating with Commission”

Indianapolis-based Spectacle, which is at the center of the controversy, stated it had been fully cooperating with the Gaming Commission. While commenting on the development, Spectacle’s CEO and board chairwoman Jahnae Erpenbach said they have been taking this matter very seriously from day one as “we share the Commission’s objective of protecting the integrity of gaming in Indiana.”

Spectacle Jack, led by Greg Gibson, is the company that planned the Terry Haute casino project. Spectacle Jack stated on Tuesday that Gibson was cooperating with the commission and was not a subject of its probe. The gaming commission’s deputy director Jennifer Reske said the authority did not intend to derail casino projects essential to the state and those cities.

Reske added that ensuring these projects are successful is a leading priority, and the objective is to make sure that they continue without delays. “But at the same time, we have to make sure that these facilities are conducted in compliance with the law.

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