Indiana Gaming Bills Shelved Following Former State Lawmaker’s Guilty Plea

Posted on: November 28, 2023, 10:13h. 

Last updated on: November 29, 2023, 09:49h.

No gaming measures will be considered in Indiana next year after a former state lawmaker pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge stemming from promises of lucrative employment from a casino company in exchange for passing laws favorable to the state gaming industry.

Indiana gaming bill casino legislation
Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray says no gaming bills will be considered during the state’s 2024 legislative session. That decision comes after two political corruption scandals regarding casino matters shook the Indiana State Capitol. (Image: Indianapolis Star)

Speaking this week with WFYI Indianapolis, state Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray (R-Morgan) and House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) say the scandal will result in gaming legislation being swiftly dismissed in 2024.

It taints the Statehouse,” Bray explained of the scandal. “It diminishes the confidence that people have in the integrity of the Statehouse. It causes an awful lot of problems and it makes it particularly difficult to engage in that kind of policy.”

Earlier this month, former state Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville) pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge for agreeing to support gaming legislation beneficial to a casino company in exchange for future employment. Federal prosecutors alleged that Eberhart championed legislation in 2019 that slashed the state’s casino license relocation fee from $100 million to $20 million and additionally pushed forward a bill to provide tax incentives for casinos.

The US Department of Justice said Eberhart did so on behalf of Spectacle Entertainment. After the relocation fee was cut, Spectacle relocated one of its two casino licenses in Buffington Harbor on Lake Michigan to downtown Gary.

Black Eye for Gaming Industry

In 2018, Spectacle Gaming acquired two Indiana casino licenses from Majestic Holdco. The transaction gave the Indiana gaming operator possession of the two Majestic Star riverboats.

Spectacle sought to relocate the casinos to a more attractive market, with downtown Gary being the preferred location. After Eberhart convinced his fellow lawmakers in Indianapolis to support reducing the relocation fee, Spectacle paid the state $20 million to relocate the gaming privilege to downtown Gary.

Spectacle then spent $300 million to build a new land-based casino. It brought on Hard Rock International to operate the property, which opened in May 2021 as Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana.

Federal prosecutors alleged that in exchange for Eberhart’s cooperation in reducing the gaming license relocation fee by 80%, Spectacle pledged to hire him upon leaving state politics. The company assured Eberhart an annual salary of at least $350K.

Eberhart faces up to five years in prison, a $250K fine, and three years of supervised release. He will be sentenced at a later date, but prosecutors are expected to recommend a lower sentence in exchange for his guilty plea.

Public Distrust

Eberhart’s scandal isn’t the first gaming crime to rock Indiana politics. In August 2022, former state Sen. Brent Waltz (R-Greenwood) was sentenced to 10 months in prison for taking $40,500 in illegal contributions from casino company New Centaur for his 2016 congressional run.

New Centaur was the predecessor to Spectacle. John Keeler, who co-founded both New Centaur and Spectacle, was sentenced to two months in prison for filing a false tax return concerning the Waltz bribe.

Waltz pleaded guilty to two felony counts of making and receiving conduit contributions and lying to the FBI. Following the two political scandals, Hard Rock International agreed to acquire Spectacle for an undisclosed price.

In an op-ed last week, the editorial team of the Daily Journal summarized that the Eberhart case is just the latest corruption plotline in the Statehouse.

“If this was an isolated case, we might be more sympathetic. But this was not an isolated case. Year after year, lawmakers resign upon finding ‘greener’ pastures. Their party fills the vacancy with another member of their party. Everybody wins. Except the public,” the editorial summarized.