Indiana Gaming Commission Rejects Settlement Offer for Terre Haute Casino License

Posted on: November 15, 2021, 11:07h. 

Last updated on: November 16, 2021, 09:47h.

The Indiana Gaming Commission plans to proceed with picking an applicant for the Vigo County casino license when it meets on Wednesday. But when that company may get a license remains to be seen. Commissioners on Monday rejected an offer from the Terre Haute businessman who is appealing the state’s decision to take away the license.

Greg Gibson Terre Haute casino
Terre Haute, Ind., businessman Greg Gibson, who has appealed the Indiana Gaming Commission’s decision to not renew his company’s license for a casino in his hometown, offered to settle the case with the IGC. The commissioners, however, voted to reject that proposal and counter with another offer. The IGC is moving forward with finding a new company to take over the license, pending the outcome of the appeal. (Image: Spectacle Entertainment)

The IGC held a special virtual meeting to review a proposed settlement from Greg Gibson and rejected the offer by a 4-0 vote during the 20-minute meeting. One member abstrained who was not on the board in June when the commission voted not to renew the license for Gibson’s Lucy Luck.

According to a Nov. 4 letter from Peter French, a lawyer with Taft Stettinius & Hollister representing Lucy Luck, the settlement proposal called for the IGC to renew the company’s license. In return, the company “would take all necessary steps within 90 days” to reduce Gibson’s interest in the company to a percentage redacted by the IGC and buy out the remaining minority investors.

Then, the letter states, “an experienced gaming company – Hard Rock or a similarly situated gaming company – would then hold the balance” and run the casino.

The letter set a deadline of 5 pm ET Monday for a decision.

A Hard Rock Rocksino was the plan when Spectacle Entertainment – a company founded by Gibson and longtime Indiana gaming executive Rod Ratcliff – was the only applicant for the license in December 2019. However, before the IGC could approve the license, it started an investigation into Spectacle. That’s after learning executives from the company were tied to a federal investigation regarding illegal campaign contributions.

Commissioners eventually approved Gibson’s company for the license in May 2020, but only after Ratcliff and John Keeler, a then-Spectacle executive, agreed to back out of the project.

In June, commissioners voted not to renew after Lucy Luck had yet to start construction on the casino and fill key positions.

Gibson appealed the decision to the Office of Administrative Law Proceedings, which issued a stay on the IGC’s ruling on July 27, pending the outcome of the appeal. A hearing in the case is set for Tuesday, according to the IGC.

Gibson Part of Hard Rock’s Terre Haute Bid

While Gibson appeals the decision, he’s also a minority investor in the bid Hard Rock International has submitted for the new license. Other applicants are Churchill Downs Incorporated, Full House Resorts, and a partnership led by Premier Gaming Group.

Terre Haute and Vigo County officials have sent letters to the Indiana Gaming Commission urging them to select Hard Rock’s application, largely because Gibson’s presence gives that bid a local connection.

Hard Rock officials, though, have made it clear that while Gibson is a partner in the bid, their company’s representatives would manage and operate the casino.

Besides being a prominent businessman in Terre Haute, Gibson is also well-connected politically. He currently serves as the vice chairman of the Ports of Indiana Commission. He was first appointed to that panel in 2006 by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, and Gov. Eric Holcomb reappointed him to a four-year term in 2018.

His biography on the ports commission website also states that he previously served on the Indiana Judicial Commission, which is responsible for nominating candidates to serve on the state’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

Indiana Commissioners Make Counter Offer

While the IGC rejected the settlement offer, commissioners were not ready Monday to dismiss efforts to resolve the case.

After the vote, Commissioner Marc Fine said that while it’s not “the greatest atmosphere” to negotiate, he thought it would be worthwhile to find a way to resolve the case. He suggested refunding Lucy Luck “the fees that they’ve paid,” which would be the $5 million license fee, in return for dropping the appeal and agreeing not to pursue further legal action.

The $5 million would be returned once the state received the same fee from the new license holder to the Terre Haute casino, he added.

It seems that to continue to go down this path of fast meetings and adversarial proceedings doesn’t do the state of Indiana any good, doesn’t do the city of Terre Haute any good, or the citizens, frankly,” Fine said. “I’m wondering if there’s not a more-prompt way that we can find a resolution.”

Fine’s counterproposal received support from the rest of the commissioners. But Commissioner Susan Williams also called for a backup plan in case Gibson rejected the offer. She suggested the IGC pursue full revocation of Lucy Luck’s license.

IGC Executive Director Greg Small told the commissioners that the commission’s staff would need about 15 days after Wednesday’s meeting to come up with an order for revocation, if that’s needed. Small said the process would be similar to the non-renewal process the commission used in June.

Plans to Pick Licensee on Wednesday

The stay in the appeal complicates matters for Wednesday’s IGC meeting. Representatives from the four applicants will make their presentations to the commissioners during that session in Indianapolis.

Based on the planned procedure the commission unveiled on its website Monday, the seven commissioners will publicly state their top two picks. Any applicant receiving four or more votes would advance to a final round.

The process may change at the discretion of IGC Chairman Michael McMains.

“It is anticipated that finalists will be invited to make closing statements,” the IGC notice said.

Commissioners would then hold discussions before making motions to select an applicant, with the successful applicant needing four commissioners to vote yes. The IGC said it’s possible there may be multiple motions and votes.

IGC Deputy Director Jenny Reske told after Monday’s meeting that when an applicant is selected, it will be made clear that the license will not be officially awarded until Lucy Luck’s appeal is resolved.