Hard Rock taking over casino from troubled Indianapolis company

Hard Rock International is taking over a northwestern Indiana casino from an ownership group whose top executives have faced criminal and financial misconduct allegations.

The Indiana Gaming Commission on Wednesday approved a deal under which Hard Rock will assume at least 85% ownership of the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana in Gary from Indianapolis-based Spectacle Entertainment.

The commission had previously forced two former top Spectacle executives to give up their ownership stakes after one was charged by federal prosecutors with making illegal campaign contributions with casino company money.

Florida-based Hard Rock has been operating the new $300 million casino in Gary since it opened in May.

Hard Rock Chief Operating Officer Jon Lucas said the company believed it was important to clear up the ownership troubles and alleviate the concerns of state regulators.

“We believe in the project and feel good about being in this community and in this jurisdiction,” Lucas said after the commission meeting. “This was the way to resolve it. We’re more than willing to do that.”

The financial terms of the deal were not released.

Gaming Commission Chairman Michael McMains said he appreciated Hard Rock’s “heavy lifting” to address the ownership concerns.

The Hard Rock takeover of the Gary casino comes after former Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff agreed to give up his ownership stake and state casino license, ending more than a decade as a heavyweight in Indiana’s gambling industry. State casino officials began investigating Spectacle and Ratcliff in early 2020 after the filing of the campaign contribution charges involving a longtime Ratcliff business partner, former Spectacle Entertainment vice president John Keeler.

The 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.

Ratcliff has denied wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged by federal authorities in the campaign financing case. Keeler is awaiting trial on the charges.

The Spectacle investigation has also snarled plans for Terre Haute to become the state’s first new community to get a casino since 2008. State officials forced Spectacle last year to give up ownership of that project to Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson.

Gibson had an agreement with Hard Rock for it to operate the planned $125 million casino there, but the state commission voted in June against renewing the casino license for Gibson’s company because it hadn’t hired an executive team or secured full financing after more than a year.

The state commission has set a Sept. 22 deadline for interested companies to submit proposals for the Terre Haute casino license.

Lucas said Hard Rock remained interested in that project but wouldn’t say whether the company would pursue the license.

“We have agreement in Terre Haute, so we’re certainly willing to honor that if it comes to that,” Lucas said. “We’re definitely interested in Terre Haute.”

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