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Indiana Casino Bigwig Fights State Over Ouster Order

Written by:
Associated Press
Published on:
Jan/21/2021

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A longtime heavyweight in Indiana’s gambling industry is fighting state regulators’ attempts to force him to give up his stake in a Lake Michigan casino and a $300 million new casino project in Gary.

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A lawsuit filed Tuesday by former Spectacle Entertainment CEO Rod Ratcliff in Lake County court argues the Indiana Gaming Commission wrongly acted against him without allowing a fair hearing on allegations that he continued exerting control over the company in violation of state orders.

The commission’s action last month followed the federal indictment of Ratcliff’s business partner on allegations of illegally funneling casino company money to a former state lawmaker’s unsuccessful congressional campaign. The various actions have raised doubts about completion and ownership of the new in-land casino being built by Spectacle in Gary in partnership with Hard Rock International.

A spokesman for Ratcliff said he would “not surrender his constitutional rights in the process.”

“By operating outside of its legal scope and unfairly judging Mr. Ratcliff as guilty by association, the Indiana Gaming Commission has created a problem where none existed and delayed what will be a significant contributor to the Lake County economy,” spokesman Robert Vane said.

Ratcliff’s lawsuit disputes the commission’s right to take emergency action against him in December when the agency found out about the allegations against former Spectacle vice president John Keeler last January, who was indicted in September.

Ratcliff hasn’t been charged in the federal case and he denies any wrongdoing. Ratcliff resigned as Indianapolis-based Spectacle’s CEO over the summer after he and Keeler gave up their ownership in the company’s planned $125 million casino in Terre Haute to business partner Greg Gibson.

Ratcliff’s lawsuit maintains that state regulators have interfered with his efforts to sell his 22% share of Spectacle and were trying to force him to take a “fire-sale price” from Hard Rock.

The state gaming commission declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday. It said construction was being allowed to continue on the new casino, but that an order prohibiting the transfer of gambling machines from the current Majestic Star casino remained in place.

Hard Rock Chief Operating Officer Jon Lucas said in a statement that the company was working with the state commission and remained committed to completing the new Gary casino project.

Ratcliff and Keeler, a lawyer who was a Republican legislator for 16 years in the 1980s and 90s, have lobbied the Indiana Legislature for many years on casino matters. They pushed lawmakers in 2019 to allow the Gary casino’s move from along Lake Michigan to a more lucrative location next to Interstate 80/94 in Gary. In 2019, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb faced a state ethics review of his dealings with Ratcliff.

Ratcliff and Keeler were leaders of the former Centaur Gaming and among those who formed Spectacle after selling Centaur’s horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville to Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. in 2018 for $1.7 billion.

Centaur was a key lobbying force behind the state Legislature’s decision that allowed both horse tracks to open the first Indianapolis-area casinos in 2008.

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