Rod Ratcliff Quietly Stepped Away from Spectacle Leadership Posts Amid Indiana Gaming Investigation

Posted on: September 25, 2020, 04:06h. 

Last updated on: September 25, 2020, 06:38h.

Longtime Indiana gaming industry executive Rod Ratcliff is no longer the chairman and CEO of Spectacle Entertainment and Spectacle Gary, as the Indianapolis-based company announced the promotion of Jahnae Erpenbach to serve in both positions.

Rod Ratcliff Indiana gaming
Rod Ratcliff (second, right) celebrates the groundbreaking for Hard Rock Northern Indiana in January. He stepped down quietly in June as Spectacle Entertainment’s chairman, CEO, and board member. Jahnae Erpenbach (third from left) was appointed his successor earlier this week. (Image: Seminole Tribune)

Spectacle’s announcement of Erpenbach earlier this week did not even mention Ratcliff’s name, a somewhat surprising move given Ratcliff’s contributions to Indiana gaming. In fact, he actually stepped down in June, according to a company spokesperson, as his final months with Spectacle were mired by an Indiana Gaming Commission investigation stemming from a federal case concerning illegal campaign contributions.

According to a Spectacle release, Erpenbach becomes the first woman to chair a US casino company’s board of directors.

“I am very excited about this new chapter for Spectacle Entertainment,” stated Erpenbach. “I’m grateful for the support of my team and colleagues. Good things are on the horizon for the company and the community; this is a first for Indiana and I’m honored and humbled to be a part of it.”

Erpenbach has been in the Midwest gaming industry for nearly 30 years. She previously served as Spectacle’s executive vice president of operations and general manager of the Majestic Star Casino in Gary. She also worked as the general manager for Hoosier Park Racing and Casino and Indiana Grand Racing and Casino.

Spectacle, which owns the two Majestic Star riverboat casinos on the Gary shores of Lake Michigan, is in the process of building a land-based casino in the Rust Belt town with Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment. Construction on the $300 million venture, called Hard Rock Northern Indiana, started in January.

Spectacle Investigaton

In January the IGC announced it was conducting an investigation into Spectacle after Centaur officials were tied to a federal criminal investigation regarding illegal campaign contributions made to an Indiana congressional candidate in 2015.

In that case, Charles “Chip” O’Neil pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge, saying he got at least eight people to contribute checks to the candidate. He then filed bogus invoices to an unnamed company, determined to be Centaur in media reports, for funds to reimburse the check writers.

In July, O’Neil received a sentence of six months of home detention, as well as one year of probation. He was also fined $3,000. He faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case also caused a three-month delay in the hearing for the Terre Haute license.

In May, Spectacle announced that Ratcliff and John Keeler, Spectacle’s vice president and general counsel, would remove themselves from the leadership team for the Terre Haute project. The IGC then approved the license.

A month later, Ratcliff quietly stepped down from his position at Spectacle, a company spokeswoman told Thursday.

“After many years of helping to successfully establish the gaming industry in Indiana, Rod has chosen to retire from his position as CEO, effective this past June,” Kay Kearney, director of communications and creative development for the Majestic Star, said Thursday. “However, he remains a significant investor in Spectacle Entertainment and oversees investor relations and financial development for the company.”

Ratcliff’s name no longer appears on the company’s website. Keeler remains with Spectacle.

‘No Longer Authorized’

In a statement Friday to, IGC Executive Director Sara Tait said Ratcliff also resigned his seat on Spectacle’s board on June 19, at the same time he stepped down from his other positions.

Mr. Ratcliff is no longer authorized to perform any duties associated with his prior roles and is not permitted to exert any control or management regarding Majestic Star Casino,” Tait said. “Mr. Ratcliff maintains a license as a substantial owner.”

Meanwhile, the investigation into Spectacle goes on.

“The standard for suitability to hold a gaming license in Indiana is high,” Tait added. “When circumstances warrant, the IGC is obligated to exercise its authority in conducting its investigations, both regulatory and criminal, for matters under the agency’s purview.  All steps the IGC has taken, to date, are in an effort to protect the integrity of gaming while the investigation continues.”

Ratcliff’s Indiana Gaming Legacy

Even with the unceremonious departure, Ratcliff’s contributions to Indiana gaming are noteworthy. He put together the team that won the license for the Argosy Casino (now Hollywood) in Lawrenceburg in the southeastern corner of the state, as casino gaming started in Indiana in 1996.

He also helped establish the first pari-mutuel racetrack in the state when his company partnered with Churchill Downs to open Hoosier Park in 1994. Churchill would then sell Hoosier Park to Ratcliff’s Centaur Gaming in 2007, and Ratcliff was instrumental in getting slots approved for Indiana’s tracks.

Centaur would eventually buy the state’s other track, Indiana Grand, in 2013. The company then sold the tracks to Caesars Entertainment two years ago. Ratcliff then founded Spectacle to purchase the Majestic Star, which operates on two boats, each with its own separate license.

Indiana’s expanded gaming law, approved by the legislature last year, allowed for Spectacle to move the Majestic Star inland and surrender the other license, which was then designated for a casino in Terre Haute. Last year, Spectacle was the only company to apply for the Terre Haute license to the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC).

The IGC investigation, though, wasn’t the only controversy facing Ratcliff or Spectacle. Before the company announced its intention to buy the Majestic Star, the company flew Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to two Republican Governors Association meetings at no charge. The flights served as in-kind contributions to the RGA.