Hard Rock Cleared to Assume Ownership of Gary Casino

Florida-based casino and hospitality company Hard Rock International is set to take over a casino in Northwestern Indiana from an ownership group whose top executives have been hit with financial and criminal misconduct allegations.

During its Wednesday meeting, the Indiana Gaming Commission approved a deal that will see Hard Rock acquire at least 85% of Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana in Gary. The property is currently majority owned by Spectacle Entertainment.

Early last year, the Indianapolis-based company found itself in the middle of a political scandal that involved its CEO, Rod Ratcliff, and General Counsel, John Keeler, who allegedly illegally directed money from Spectacle to fund an Indiana lawmaker’s run for the US Congress in 2015.

After their participation in the illegal campaign donations was confirmed, Mr. Ratcliff and Mr. Keeler were ordered by the Gaming Commission to give up their ownership stakes in Spectacle and surrender their casino licenses.

According to state gaming officials, Mr. Ratcliff continued exerting control over the casino operator even after he gave up his license and wrongly transferred just under $1 million in company money to his personal horse race betting account. He was also found to have made improper job offers to government lobbyists.

Mr. Ratcliff has denied all allegations leveled against him.

Important to Clear Up Ownership Troubles

Following the Wednesday approval, Hard Rock COO Jon Lucas said that they considered it important to clear up the Gary casino’s ownership issues and alleviate all concerns state regulators had.

He went on that they believe in the project and feel good about being in this community and in this jurisdiction.”

Financial details about the deal that will see Hard Rock assume at least 85% ownership of the Gary casino were not disclosed. The property opened doors this past May.

Hard Rock and Spectacle partnered in 2019 to jointly develop and open the Gary casino. Spectacle owned two Majestic Star riverboat casinos in the same city at the time. A sweeping gambling reform approved by state lawmakers in mid-2019 enabled Spectacle to move casino operations from one of its riverboats on dry land.

The company returned the other riverboat license to the Gaming Commission and was then issued a new one to build and operate a land-based casino in Terre Haute.

After the political scandal last year, the state gaming regulator forced Spectacle to give up ownership of the Terre Haute project to local businessman Greg Gibson. Gibson and Hard Rock partnered to build and operate a $125 million gambling venue in that city.

However, the project’s future is now unclear after gaming officials voted in June against renewing the license granted to Mr. Gibson’s company because it had failed to hire an executive team and secure full financing for the scheme.

The commission opened a new license application process and companies interested in operating the Terre Haute casino have until September 22 to submit their proposals. Hard Rock executives have said they are still interested in the project but are yet to decide whether they will pursue a license.

Source: Hard Rock taking over casino from troubled Indiana company, Westport News, August 18, 2021

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