Rod Ratcliff, Longtime Indiana Casino Exec, Voluntarily Steps Down from Terre Haute Project After Former Company Tied to Political Contributions
Posted on: May 7, 2020, 01:42h.
Last updated on: May 7, 2020, 03:31h.
Rod Ratcliff, a longtime Indiana gaming executive and developer, has voluntarily removed his name from an application for a new casino license in Vigo County. That’s according to a statement Thursday from the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) to Casino.org.
The move comes after the commission in late January delayed a Feb. 7 hearing on Spectacle Jack LLC’s application, the only company that sought the license. Spectacle Jack’s parent company is Spectacle Entertainment, which was founded two years ago by a group led by Ratcliff and Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson.
Spectacle currently owns the Majestic Star Casino in Gary and is working with Hard Rock International to create a land-based casino in the northwest Indiana city. Hard Rock is also slated to operate the proposed Spectacle casino in Terre Haute, the largest city in Vigo County.
The IGC made the decision after it received information about a federal court case in Virginia. That case implicated members of Spectacle’s management team, who previously worked for Centaur Gaming, where Ratcliff served as its chairman and CEO.
That’s the same title Ratcliff currently holds for Spectacle.
The federal case involved a political consultant who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make conduit contributions to an Indiana congressional candidate five years ago. Charles “Chip” O’Neil got at least eight people to write checks of $2,700 each for an Indiana candidate that’s been identified by The Times of Northwest Indiana as Brent Waltz.
O’Neil and his boss then created bogus invoices to Centaur, which was listed only as “Company A” in the court documents, to receive funding from the company and repay those listed as the campaign contributors. Prosecutors also claimed that O’Neil worked with “Person A,” described as the vice president and general counsel for “Company A.”
John Keeler, a former Indiana lawmaker, served Centaur in that capacity and currently holds that title for Spectacle.
Messages to Spectacle Entertainment and Keeler were not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.
Spectacle “Fully Cooperated,” Commission Says
The IGC told Casino.org that it received an amended application from Spectacle Jack on March 13. A staff review determined that the new document met state guidelines.
“In addition, the components of the application remain unchanged, including the casino design and capital investment,” the commission’s statement read. “We’re pleased Spectacle Jack was able to amend their application in order to allow this matter to move forward. The legislature awarded this economic development tool to Vigo County, and we view it as a very positive development to be able to take the next necessary steps.”
Spectacle Entertainment, Ratcliff, and Keeler have “fully cooperated” with the IGC during the review, according to the statement.
(Ratcliff and Keeler) wished to provide a voluntary remedy which would allow Commission consideration without additional delay. The amended application reflects that Mr. Ratcliff and Mr. Keeler are no longer involved in Spectacle Jack’s operations.”
The Commission is now scheduled to review the application during a virtual meeting scheduled for May 15. No other details about the meeting have been announced.
Ratcliff Involved in Indiana Gaming Since the Beginning
Ratcliff has been involved in Indiana gaming since the state legalized riverboat casinos nearly 30 years ago. He led the team that got the license 25 years ago for the casino in Lawrenceburg, the venue closest to Cincinnati, Ohio. He also worked with Churchill Downs to develop Hoosier Park, the state’s first pari-mutuel track.
Centaur managed Hoosier Park and, in 2013, purchased the Indiana Grand harness racing track. In 2018, Centaur sold the tracks to Caesars Entertainment, and Ratcliff used the funds from the transaction to create Spectacle.
Later that same year, Spectacle bought the two Majestic Star casinos.
Last year, the Indiana General Assembly passed an expanded gaming law that allowed Spectacle to move from Lake Michigan to an inland site. In return, it surrendered one of the two licenses it held, with the law allotting that license for Terre Haute.
In January, officials from Spectacle, Hard Rock, and Gary celebrated the groundbreaking for the development. Hard Rock has also agreed to operate the Terre Haute casino under its brand.
IGC Not Done Investigating Spectacle
Spectacle’s effort to move to a land-based site in Gary also has had some controversy attached to it. The Indianapolis Star reported that Spectacle flew Gov. Eric Holcomb to two Republican Governors Association (RGA) meetings in 2018.
At least one of the flights was considered an in-kind contribution to the RGA. One of those flights occurred the day before Spectacle announced its intent to acquire the casinos.
There were also questions about land acquisitions in Gary that prompted Hard Rock’s Compliance Committee to review before the gaming company’s Board of Directors finally signed off on the agreement.
And now, the IGC is still looking into the campaign contributions.
“As we previously explained, there is a difference between granting a new license and those rights afforded to current licensees,” the IGC told Casino.org. “The IGC’s review continues as Spectacle Entertainment has ownership of Majestic Star Casino. The IGC’s consideration of the Vigo County license should not be construed to mean that we have reached any conclusion regarding the matters referenced in documents out of the Eastern District of Virginia.”
A message to a Hard Rock spokesperson for comment was not immediately returned.