February 1, 2021

Ownership Fight Could Leave New Indiana Casino Empty

FILE: Justin Hicks/IPB News

FILE: Justin Hicks/IPB News

GARY, Ind. (AP) — The legal fight over ownership of a new $300 million casino in northwestern Indiana could leave it sitting unused for possibly months after construction work is completed.

Indiana Gaming Commission has told the parent company of Gary’s Majestic Star Casinos to be ready to operate its gambling boats along Lake Michigan until at least June, instead of moving forward with plans to close them in March or April when the new in-land casino in Gary was expected to open, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.

The step was taken to keep the existing casino operation in business after the commission moved in December to force a longtime heavyweight in Indiana’s gambling industry to give up his ownership stake in Spectacle Entertainment, which owns the existing casinos and the under-construction Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana.

“Unfortunately, the actions of parties associated with Spectacle have created a high level of uncertainty regarding both suitability and project timeline,” said Sara Gonso Tait, the commission’s executive director. “Until an acceptable path forward is identified, the commission will continue to act within its authority to protect gaming revenues and employees at the current operation in Gary.”

Former Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff filed a lawsuit against the commission in January, arguing it wrongly acted against him without allowing a fair hearing on allegations that he continued exerting control over the company in violation of state orders.

The commission has said Ratcliff put in motion a scheme to illegally funnel casino company money to a former state lawmaker’s unsuccessful 2016 Republican congressional campaign. Ratcliff’s lawsuit maintains that state regulators have interfered with his efforts to sell his 22% share of Spectacle and were trying to force him to take a “fire-sale price” from Hard Rock International.

A longtime Ratcliff business partner, former Spectacle vice president John Keeler, was indicted in September on federal charges over the alleged straw donor contributions. Ratcliff hasn’t been charged in the federal case and he denies any wrongdoing.

Attorneys for the commission have asked a Lake County judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing Ratcliff has not exhausted his administrative appeals.

Meanwhile, Hard Rock is continuing to recruit, hire and train hundreds of employees for the new casino along Interstate 80/94 that its website — and roadside billboards across the state — still say is scheduled to open in spring 2021.

Hard Rock is working with the state commission and Spectacle Entertainment to resolve the ownership dispute and “remains committed to the successful completion of the Hard Rock Northern Indiana project," said Jon Lucas, the company’s chief operating officer.

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