INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The leader of the Indiana House is skipping votes on a major gambling-related bill after a casino owner helped arranged a local government contract with his law firm.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma is doing legal work for the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board, which is among the entities supporting the bill that includes allowing a proposed Terre Haute casino, The Indianapolis Star reported.
Bosma told the House ethics committee he was first contacted about the work by Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson, an investor in Spectacle Entertainment. The company wants to move one of Gary's two Lake Michigan casino licenses to Terre Haute and the other to a potentially more lucrative location along Interstate 80-94 in Gary.
Bosma said he has followed all House rules and denies the contract has influenced his actions as a lawmaker. Bosma recused himself from voting on the bill or presiding over the House when it considers the proposal, but he confirmed he met with Spectacle officials once earlier this year and has discussed the bill with other legislators.
"I've not advocated for or against any position on the bill," he said. "My only advice to those who were working on the bill was that it ... needed to be a stand-alone bill. And if a county was going to receive the right to have gaming, they needed to have a referendum like everyone else."
The wide-ranging bill would allow the Gary casino moves after the owner paid a $50 million state fee, while also legalizing sports wagering and moving up when two central Indiana horse track casinos could offer table games with live dealers.
Julia Vaughn, policy director for the government accountability group Common Cause Indiana, said Bosma did the right thing by recusing himself. But she said his involvement behind the scenes and Gibson's role in arranging Bosma's contract are ethical red flags.
"It's quite coincidental that this one person that just happens to be so involved in this casino project, would be the one to bring the speaker on," she said. "That certainly makes this thing smell a lot more than if it had been someone not directly involved."
The Star previously reported that Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff treated Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to two private jet flights as they traveled together last year for Republican Governors Association meetings in Colorado and Arizona.
The flights, valued at about $50,000 total, gave Ratcliff and his business partners hours of exclusive access to the governor. One of the flights came just a day before Ratcliff and Gibson announced in November the company's plans to buy the two casinos in Gary.
The Vigo County board hired Bosma in June, a few weeks after Gibson contacted Bosma directly about providing legal services, according to a letter Bosma wrote to legislative ethics officials. He is a partner at the Indianapolis law firm of Kroger Gardis & Regas, where he leads its government practice group and specializes in municipal law.
Meeting minutes show Bosma is handling the board work personally, attending monthly meetings and advising on contracts and property acquisition for a planned $32.5 million convention center project in Terre Haute. Gibson has since stepped down from the board to pursue a private hotel development in conjunction with the convention center.
The Star reported neither Gibson nor Spectacle's attorney returned messages seeking comment.
Bosma said he didn't immediately know how much he had been paid by the board, which didn't immediately provide the contract.