he ownership issues that threatened to delay the opening of the $300 million Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana have been resolved and the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) has lifted its hold on completing the land-based Gary gaming facility.
The deal announced Tuesday between former Spectacle Entertainment CEO Rod Ratcliff and the IGC comes after he had filed a lawsuit last month against the agency’s order that he give up his ownership stake in the existing Lake Michigan casino in Gary and a new casino being built to replace it at a more lucrative inland Gary location, which was put on hold by the commission in December.
Ratcliff sold his shares in the project to Hard Rock International for an undisclosed sum. The dispute over Ratcliff’s ownership role had threatened the opening of the new Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana this spring, but the commission’s director said its staff would work toward “an expeditious opening” for the new casino.
As part of the settlement, he also agreed to end his gaming career in Indiana, a privilege that began to unravel after the commission suspended his license in December because of his alleged ties to a political corruption scheme. State casino officials began investigating Spectacle and Ratcliff in January 2020 after federal allegations emerged that a longtime Ratcliff business partner, former Spectacle vice president John Keeler, illegally funneled casino company money to a former state lawmaker’s unsuccessful 2016 Republican congressional campaign.
The state gaming commission has said Ratcliff was involved in that scheme, citing an email from a Ratcliff employee and his electronic calendar about an April 2015 meeting at Indianapolis International Airport with a Virginia political consultant who was sentenced last year on federal fraud charges.
State officials have also alleged that Ratcliff continued exerting control over Spectacle in violation of state orders, wrongly funneled nearly $1 million in casino company money into his own horse race wagering account and made improper job offers to government lobbyists. A spokesman for Ratcliff said the agreement benefits all sides and stop the “unfair persecution of Rod Ratcliff.”
“With this settlement agreement, Rod achieves what he wanted from the very beginning of this ordeal — to retire from Indiana gaming on his own terms,” spokesman Robert Vane said in a statement. “Mr. Ratcliff’s career in Indiana has resulted in the creation of thousands of jobs for Hoosiers, millions of dollars of economic activity, and significant charitable investment in local communities.”
Terms of Ratcliff’s ownership stake sale were not released. His shares are being bought by Hard Rock International and Spectacle Entertainment partner Greg Gibson, who took over ownership last year of the new casino being built in Terre Haute from Spectacle because of the federal criminal investigation.
The Indiana Gaming Commission has now given the greenlight to keep development of the Hard Rock Casino Gary project moving forward. An opening date for the new casino, located adjacent to the Borman Expressway at Burr Street, has not yet been announced. “This project is important to the City of Gary, the State, and the Majestic Star employees and their families,” said the commission’s executive director Sara Gonso Tait, referring to two Gary casinos that will close and transfer their employees to the new Hard Rock. “The Commission will continue to hold its licensees to high standards of integrity and accountability in ensuring its success.”
The state gaming commission’s board is expected to review Ratcliff’s agreement and plans for operating the new Gary casino during its March 23 meeting.