The Indiana Gaming Commission is seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit that a longtime casino executive filed against the agency earlier this month.
Rod Ratcliff, who served as CEO and chairman of Spectacle Entertainment until June, alleges in his lawsuit that the Gaming Commission violated his right to due process when it temporarily suspended his gaming license in December.
He also says in the lawsuit that he believes the commission is trying to force him to sell his interests in the new Gary casino to Hard Rock International, a partner in the project.
In a court filing submitted Thursday in Lake Superior Court, the commission describes Ratcliff’s arguments as “entirely unpersuasive” and says he makes “several self-aggrandizing yet completely irrelevant statements covering multiple pages” within the filing.
The Gaming Commission is arguing that Ratcliff’s case should be dismissed because he has not exhausted all of his administrative appeal options.
Ratcliff previously served as chairman and CEO of New Centaur LLC, which owned the state’s racetrack casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville before selling them to Caesars Entertainment in 2018. After that sale, he helped found Spectacle Entertainment.
Spectacle Entertainment now operates the Majestic Star I and Majestic Star II casinos on Lake Michigan and is partnering with Hard Rock to construct a $300 million land-based casino in Gary that will replace those riverboats.
In December, the Gaming Commission suspended Ratcliff’s occupational gambling license for 90 days after tying him to a federal investigation involving campaign finance violations. The commission also ordered Ratcliff and Spectacle to remove him as a trustee of the Roderick J. Ratcliff Revocable Trust and replace him with someone acceptable to the commission.
In his lawsuit, Ratcliff describes the commission’s decisions as “hasty and ill-conceived.” He is asking the court to void both of the commission’s orders because he was not afforded his right to due process and he believes the commission’s actions were based on “unsubstantiated, unfounded and politically motivated” claims against him.
Ratcliff’s motion for a preliminary injunction on his gaming license suspension is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday in Lake County Superior Court, but the Gaming Commission has requested to delay that hearing and to transfer the case to a court in Marion County.
“Why the Indiana Gaming Commission persists in acting like Lake County doesn’t exist is a mystery to us,” Robert Vane, a spokesman for Ratcliff, said Friday in an email to IBJ. “We are confident the court will find there is no reason either to dismiss our case or move it to a place more convenient to the Commission. Hoosiers in Lake County are the ones suffering because of the unsupportable actions by the state, and their voices should be heard.”
According to the Gaming Commission, an administrative law judge should review Ratcliff’s appeal of the license suspension before Ratcliff is allowed to pursue a lawsuit.
Ratcliff has filed an appeal with an administrative law judge, but no decision has been made yet. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 10. The commission argues that the court should wait until that ruling is made before allowing Ratcliff to proceed, because if the administrative law judge grants Ratcliff’s petition, there is no need for the lawsuit.
“The Indiana Supreme Court has repeatedly expressed the strong judicial preference that a party aggrieved by an agency decision exhaust all options to resolve its issues within the agency process itself before resorting to the courts,” the commission’s motion to dismiss states.
The commission says Ratcliff could have requested an expedited hearing with the administrative law judge, but he has not done so.
Also in Thursday’s court filing, the commission refuted some of the claims Ratcliff made in his complaint.
For example, Ratcliff argues that the Gaming Commission’s actions in December were the equivalent of imposing “a death sentence” on his ability to sell his interests to whomever he’d like and repeatedly says he believes the commission is trying to force him to sell his interests to Hard Rock.
But the commission argues that is not accurate, because Ratcliff has admitted that he had reached an agreement on Dec. 22 to sell his remaining shares in Spectacle Entertainment to Greg Gibson of Spectacle Jack, which at one time was a subsidiary of Spectacle Entertainment and is overseeing construction of the new Terre Haute casino in partnership with Hard Rock.
“If Ratcliff has already sold his shares before the orders were issued, then he has suffered no harm by an order requiring him to sell them,” the commission states in its response.
Ratcliff’s temporary license suspension came months after federal prosecutors indicted one of his former business partners.
In September, federal prosecutors indicted former state Sen. Brent Waltz and casino executive and former state lawmaker John Keeler on charges related to violating federal campaign finance laws. Keeler had been an executive at both New Centaur and at Spectacle.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Keeler allegedly helped conduct a straw donor scheme to funnel thousands of dollars from New Centaur to Waltz’s unsuccessful 2016 congressional campaign.
According to the indictment, an unnamed New Centaur executive met with a Maryland-based political consultant at the Indianapolis airport to set up the scheme.
In the emergency order that the Gaming Commission issued in December to suspend Ratcliff’s license, the commission identified Ratcliff as that executive. Ratcliff has not been charged criminally and is not named in the federal indictment.