Spectacle Entertainment Fined $530K by Indiana Gaming Commission

Posted on: March 25, 2021, 09:01h. 

Last updated on: March 25, 2021, 10:52h.

An investigation into Spectacle Entertainment remains active. However, the company has already agreed to pay a $530,000 fine to the Indiana Gaming Commission after it missed a deadline to disassociate from its founder.

Indiana Gaming Commission
Sara Gonso Tait participates in a November 2019 Indiana Gaming Commission meeting at Horseshoe Southern Indiana. This week, the IGC announced a $530,000 fine for Spectacle Entertainment for failing to disassociate with its founder on a timely basis. (Image: Casino.org)

The company was fined $10,000 a day for not reaching an agreement to break away from Rod Ratcliff until Feb. 28. The deadline was Jan. 8.

IGC Executive Director Sara Gonso Tait said at Tuesday’s commission meeting that it marked the first time a casino owner licensee failed to comply with a commission order.

The IGC probe started just a couple of weeks after Spectacle and Hard Rock International broke ground on a $300 million land-based casino in Gary. The probe stemmed from a federal investigation into illegal campaign contributions.

Based on the findings commission staff uncovered, Tait ordered a temporary stop on the transfer of assets from Spectacle’s Majestic Star Casino riverboats to Hard Rock Northern Indiana.

That took place in November and was not lifted until earlier this month.

“Spectacle’s inability to address its troublesome associations impacted its suitability and caused the delay of an important economic development project to the state and city of Gary, resulting in the state not collecting the highest prospective total revenue, a fundamental statutory factor for the privilege of holding a casino owner’s license,” read the IGC settlement with Spectacle.

The new Hard Rock casino is slated to open now on May 14, project representatives told the IGC during its Tuesday meeting.

About the IGC Investigation

The IGC began its probe into Spectacle in January 2020 after receiving information about a federal probe involving a company Ratcliff previously owned.

It suspended Ratcliff’s license in December after its investigators learned he failed to disclose the transfer of company shares. He also did not disclose a horse racing wagering account in his name in which employees made deposits totaling $900,000.

With the settlement announced earlier this month, Ratcliff, a longtime gaming executive in the state, announced through a spokesperson that he would retire “on his own terms” from the gaming business.

Ratcliff, who served as Spectacle’s CEO and chairman, is one of two now-former Spectacle executives who have been removed because of the investigation. The other was John Keeler, the company’s former general counsel, and vice president.

Keeler was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges he helped orchestrate a campaign contribution scheme to Brent Waltz, a former Indiana state lawmaker who ran for a congressional seat six years ago. At that time, Ratcliff and Keeler were with Centaur Gaming, Ratcliff’s predecessor business that operated the Indiana Grand and Hoosier Park racinos.

Authorities allege Keeler worked with campaign consultants working with Waltz to devise a scheme to contribute thousands of dollars to the congressional campaign. Consultants recruited individuals to submit contributions to Waltz. At the same time, the consultants billed invoices to Centaur for bogus research projects. When the consultants received payment, they then refunded the contributions to the recruited donors.

Although prosecutors did not indict Ratcliff, IGC officials said the information they uncovered showed he was the unnamed executive named in the complaint that helped devise the plan.

The commission noted Spectacle’s failure to act quickly in dealing with Ratcliff and Keeler led it to ultimately act in the case.

Spectacle Looks to Repair Damage

In a statement to Casino.org, Spectacle Entertainment Chair and CEO Jahnae Erpenbach said the company was pleased with the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting.

“Over the past few months, the executive team at Spectacle Entertainment has worked hard to repair the damage done to the reputation of our company, and to the integrity of gaming in the state of Indiana,” Erpenbach said. “We will continue to work with the guidance of the Indiana Gaming Commission to meet and exceed the expectations and regulations of the Commission.”

The IGC said the agreement does not end the investigation, nor does it preclude the state from taking other action on previously discovered findings.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Tait said Spectacle officials know the commission’s concerns, and that questions remain about its suitability as a licensee.

“I am hopeful that we are entering a stage following many dark months where we’re moving forward,” she said.