Indiana Gaming Commission investigation could imperil new casino projects

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An investigation stemming from allegations of illegal political contributions by a longtime Indiana casino executive could snarl the future of multimillion-dollar projects for new casinos in Gary and Terre Haute.

Posted: Nov 25, 2020 12:49 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An investigation stemming from allegations of illegal political contributions by a longtime Indiana casino executive could snarl the future of multimillion-dollar projects for new casinos in Gary and Terre Haute.

The Indiana Gaming Commission has more than 10 people under investigation for possible financial misconduct that would violate state casino laws or regulations, said Sara Gonso Tait, the commission’s executive director.

The companies that currently own the Gary casino along Lake Michigan and are working on a replacement $300 million inland casino in Gary and a $125 million casino in Terre Haute have been under state scrutiny since top company executives were linked to allegations that corporate money was illegally funneled to a former state lawmaker’s unsuccessful 2016 congressional campaign.

Gaming Commission board member Susan Williams said during a Monday meeting that regulators needed to be decisive about a situation she called “unprecedented for this commission.”

“We’ve got one project marching along up in Gary and one to be started in Terre Haute,” Williams said, adding that a deadline was needed for “a plan in order to convince us that we don’t need to suspend this license.”

Commission members said they wanted a report within the next month for them to decide what action to take, with Chairman Michael McMains saying they needed to have a “zero tolerance policy of illegal gaming activities.”

Tait did not identify those under investigation but said “their suitability and ability to continue to hold gaming licenses is in serious doubt.”

State officials suspended the casino license of former Spectacle Entertainment vice president John Keeler in September after an indictment charged him with taking part in the political contributions scheme.

Indiana casino officials this spring forced Keeler and fellow Spectacle executive Rod Ratcliff to give up their ownership stake in the Terre Haute casino but allowed a business partner to go ahead with the project.

Ratcliff and Keeler, a lawyer who was a Republican legislator for 16 years during the 1980s and 90s, have been active lobbyists in the Indiana Legislature for many years on casino matters and were among the owners of the two central Indiana horse track casinos until they were sold to Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. in 2018 for $1.7 billion.

They pushed lawmakers last year to allow the Gary casino’s move from along Lake Michigan to a more lucrative location along Interstate 80/94 in Gary and permit Terre Haute to become Indiana’s first new casino city since 2008.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb faced a state ethics review last year of his dealings with Ratcliff.

Ratcliff, who is not named in the federal indictment and does not face any criminal charges, resigned in June as Spectacle’s chairman and CEO but has been allowed to keep his ownership stake.

Indianapolis-based Spectacle, which owns the Gary casino, said in a statement that it has been fully cooperating with the Gaming Commission and restricting its organization.

“From the beginning, we have taken this matter very seriously, as we share the Commission’s objective of protecting the integrity of gaming in the state,” said Jahnae Erpenbach, Spectacle’s CEO and board chairwoman.

The Terre Haute casino is being planned by a company called Spectacle Jack led by Greg Gibson, a Terre Haute businessman who is also vice chairman of Spectacle Entertainment.

Spectacle Jack said in a statement Tuesday that Gibson was cooperating with the gaming commission and wasn’t a subject of its investigation

“Gibson is committed to ensuring the integrity of the Indiana gaming industry and will continue to work ensure both projects move forward,” the statement said.

Jennifer Reske, the gaming commission’s deputy director, said the agency did not want to derail casino projects that are important to the state and those cities.

“Ensuring these projects are successful is a top priority,” Reske said. “It’s a goal to make sure that they continue and there are no delays, but at the same time we have to ensure that these facilities are conducted in compliance with statute.”

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 613228

Reported Deaths: 9728
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion846851338
Lake45676687
Allen32980552
Hamilton29649315
St. Joseph27531382
Elkhart24478345
Vanderburgh19610250
Tippecanoe18108141
Johnson15191295
Porter14944169
Hendricks14485250
Madison11044222
Clark10811144
Vigo10795181
Monroe9458113
Delaware9170134
LaPorte9145164
Howard8292144
Kosciusko810183
Warrick680299
Hancock6782104
Bartholomew6640100
Floyd6507110
Wayne6177162
Grant6027116
Dubois558680
Boone556468
Morgan548695
Henry511464
Marshall506984
Cass486964
Dearborn486545
Noble475659
Jackson427747
Shelby420781
Lawrence393780
Clinton375044
Gibson374459
Harrison353045
DeKalb349864
Montgomery347654
Knox336239
Miami324544
Steuben315046
Whitley311126
Wabash305851
Adams302836
Ripley300546
Putnam298950
Huntington294860
Jasper291734
White275143
Daviess271774
Jefferson266238
Decatur249583
Fayette248648
Greene242262
Posey241028
Wells236951
LaGrange230062
Scott226839
Clay224332
Randolph215248
Jennings200636
Sullivan193533
Spencer193022
Washington188023
Fountain184927
Starke176444
Jay168623
Owen167637
Fulton164830
Orange160935
Carroll159715
Rush156318
Perry155929
Vermillion149734
Franklin149333
Tipton133133
Parke13088
Pike118526
Blackford111822
Pulaski97837
Newton92021
Brown88335
Benton87110
Crawford8099
Martin74913
Warren6857
Switzerland6695
Union6297
Ohio4977
Unassigned0376

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 868656

Reported Deaths: 10768
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin102154707
Cuyahoga865201153
Hamilton64744448
Montgomery43516419
Summit35250762
Lucas31663631
Butler31268232
Stark26096443
Warren19830142
Lorain19296229
Mahoning17471339
Lake16250154
Clermont16128112
Delaware1453680
Licking13326137
Fairfield1294981
Trumbull12920317
Greene12174141
Medina11732168
Clark11058265
Wood10457158
Allen9988127
Portage9454111
Miami924473
Richland9236118
Marion7486113
Tuscarawas7440183
Columbiana7409124
Pickaway732150
Wayne7111172
Muskingum710342
Erie6221130
Ross5558100
Hancock555292
Scioto542764
Geauga515955
Darke473492
Lawrence460658
Union456928
Ashtabula456473
Sandusky439562
Mercer435089
Seneca433866
Huron432841
Auglaize424164
Shelby422522
Jefferson422469
Belmont421145
Washington394240
Athens38389
Putnam378075
Madison358129
Knox356122
Ashland349038
Fulton340443
Defiance334486
Crawford325774
Preble322737
Brown315821
Logan312132
Ottawa296543
Clinton291543
Williams280367
Highland279018
Jackson265845
Guernsey257126
Champaign253428
Fayette239530
Morrow23464
Perry233718
Holmes226774
Henry221953
Hardin215533
Coshocton206922
Van Wert203445
Gallia199826
Wyandot196751
Pike178017
Adams177715
Hocking173224
Carroll157616
Paulding145321
Noble121040
Meigs109724
Monroe102232
Harrison89921
Morgan83931
Vinton71314
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