Indiana Businessman Who Lost License Part of Hard Rock’s Terre Haute Venture

Posted on: September 30, 2021, 11:31h. 

Last updated on: October 1, 2021, 11:31h.

Greg Gibson, the Terre Haute, Ind., businessman whose company lost its license to operate a casino in the west central Indiana town earlier this year, has re-emerged as an investor in a new bid submitted by Hard Rock International. That’s according to a Hard Rock executive who confirmed the news to on Wednesday.

Hard Rock Terre Haute
A rendering of Hard Rock International’s plans for a casino in Terre Haute. Hard Rock COO Jon Lucas told that Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson is part of the venture. Gibson’s Lucy Luck company previously had the license to build a casino in the Indiana town, but state gaming officials chose not to renew it in June. (Image: Hard Rock International)

In a statement, Hard Rock International COO Jon Lucas said the company was happy to be involved again with Gibson. The Florida-based gaming giant had previously agreed to work with Gibson’s company when it applied for the license in December 2019.

We expect a development cost of nearly $200 million, in addition to the 175 onsite hotel rooms, 2,000 jobs during two construction phases, and $50 million a year in annual county and state tax revenue once the project is operational,” Lucas said. “HRI would be the management company and responsible for day-to-day operations. We are glad to be in this joint venture with our partner, Greg Gibson, a Terre Haute native. Hard Rock would be honored to expand our presence in this region and continue to be loyal community stewards to the people of Indiana.”

Hard Rock was one of four companies to submit a proposal for the license to the Indiana Gaming Commission by the Sept. 22 deadline.

According to the proposal Hard Rock submitted last week to the IGC, the project does vary somewhat from the plans previously submitted. While the investment level has increased, the number of slot machines proposed has dropped from 1,150 to 850. The number of table games has also dropped from 50 to 35.

Hard Rock’s Terre Haute plans also include a 300-seat entertainment and showroom venue, six bars and restaurants, and a 1,000-square-foot retail space.

Based on Lucas’ comments, it would appear that Gibson’s role in the Terre Haute casino – if the IGC awards the license to Hard Rock – would be similar to his role as an investor in Hard Rock Northern Indiana, with no active role in the gaming operations.

A Terre Haute Timeline

Gibson cofounded Spectacle Entertainment with long-time Indiana gaming executive Rod Ratcliff in 2018. In November of that year, the venture purchased the Majestic Star Casino, a two-boat casino based in Gary. A provision in Indiana’s expanded gaming law passed in 2019 allowed for the Majestic Star to be relocated inland in Gary. Spectacle partnered with Hard Rock to develop a $300 million land-based casino that opened earlier this year.

That move freed up one of the two licenses, which Spectacle surrendered, and the state allocated to Vigo County, home to Terre Haute. After voters in the county approved a casino referendum in November 2019, Spectacle and Hard Rock were the only applicants to seek the license the following month.

However, before the commission could award the license, officials in the agency became aware of a federal investigation tied to Ratcliff’s former gaming company. In May 2020, after Ratcliff and another Spectacle executive agreed to pull out of the Terre Haute venture, the commission awarded the license to the revised team, with Gibson in the lead role in what became a separate venture from Spectacle.

The IGC’s investigation into Spectacle initially focused on company executives’ role in an illegal campaign contribution scheme. That ultimately led to then-Spectacle executive John Keeler being indicted on federal charges. Staff, though, uncovered more findings, which eventually led to the ouster of Ratcliff.

The ordeal caused the opening of Hard Rock Northern Indiana to be delayed, and the commission threatened to not renew the casino’s license earlier this year. That move was avoided in August, after Hard Rock agreed to become the majority owner of the development.

While Hard Rock Northern Indiana avoided losing its license, Gibson’s Lucy Luck lost the license for the Terre Haute project in June, after the IGC expressed concerns about the project not moving forward. In the year after the company was awarded the license, there was no groundbreaking or construction happening. In addition, the company did not have key executives positions filled, and there were questions about who would purchase notes to invest $57 million in the project.

Gibson has appealed the commission’s decision to the Indiana Office of Administrative Law Proceedings. A message to that agency last week seeking information about the status of that appeal has not yet been returned.

Attempts to reach Gibson for comment have not been successful.

Indiana Gaming Commission Expects Award in November

At Wednesday’s IGC meeting, Executive Director Greg Small said that the commission will meet Nov. 17 to award the license.

“We are guaranteed a competitive process, which I think is going to be to the great benefit of both the state and local community, specifically, because I think we have four known operators that are gaming professionals in other jurisdictions,” he told the commissioners.

Per state law, the Indiana Gaming Commission last week released portions of each applicant’s submissions. Those provide details on the casinos, such as the number of machines and table games, and their non-gaming amenities.

Churchill Downs Inc. proposes to build the Queen of Terre Haute Casino Resort, which will include up to 1,000 slot machines and 50 table games in a 56,400-square-foot casino. Its dining and entertainment venues would be able to accommodate 840 visitors, and the total capacity at the resort would be 6,600 guests.

The Louisville-based company’s plans also call for a hotel with 125 rooms and suites.

Full House Resorts proposes a $250 million development it calls American Place. Its casino would house 1,000 slot machines and 50 table games. The Las Vegas-based gaming company’s dining plans include two restaurants inside a greenhouse. The resort would also feature a 100-room, four-star hotel with a distinctive curved design to replicate a smile.

Terre Haute Entertainment plans a casino with 800 slots and 20 table games. The venture includes Premier Gaming Group, a Kentucky-based company that owns the Magnolia Bluffs Casino in Natchez, Miss. It would also include three restaurants, two bars, and a meeting space area. While the documentation on the IGC website did not include any lodging, Premier Founder and President Kevin Preston told last week that the project would include a hotel and spa, as well as an RV park.

The plans for all three of Hard Rock’s competitors include rooftop bars.