Officials seek to revoke ex-casino CEO's license

The Associated Press

INDIANANPOLIS — State officials allege a longtime key player in Indiana’s gambling industry wrongly funneled nearly $1 million in casino company money into his own horse race wagering account and made improper job offers to government lobbyists.

The Indiana Gaming Commission filed documents this week seeking to permanently revoke former Spectacle Entertainment CEO Rod Ratcliff’s gaming license.

The commission voted in December for a temporary emergency suspension of Ratcliff’s license as it tried to force him to give up his ownership stake in Indianapolis-based Spectacle, which owns the existing Lake Michigan casino in Gary and a new $300 million casino being built to replace it at a more lucrative inland Gary location.

That ownership order, which Ratcliff is challenging in court, has thrown into doubt the planned opening of the new casino in the coming months.

The commission’s new filing against Ratcliff said his “association with gaming in Indiana must cease.”

"Any perception that (Ratcliff’s) multiple and brazen violations would not be met with the most significant consequence available would diminish the integrity and reputation of the industry and the Commission,” the filing said. “Furthermore, it would send a dangerous message to other Indiana licensees that such behavior will be tolerated in Indiana.”

A spokesman for Ratcliff said the commission acted “hastily and improperly” in December without a full hearing.

Ratcliff looks forward “to his day in court to contest these baseless allegations,” spokesman Robert Vane said in a statement to news outlets.

The commission’s filing against Ratcliff says he had employees at his former company, Centaur Gaming, transfer about $900,000 to his personal horse waging account under the description “marketing other.” Ratcliff did not disclose the account's earnings as required for his state gambling license, the complaint said.

Other allegations include that Ratcliff offered two unnamed lobbyists executive positions in Spectacle Entertainment even though they had no previous casino management experience. One of them was given Spectacle ownership shares and then a “significant monetary settlement” when the job offer was withdrawn, but the commission said those actions were not reported to state regulators as required.

Ratcliff has 20 days to respond to the filing against his gambling license before it is considered by an administrative law judge and then the commission’s board, commission Deputy Director Jennifer Reske said.

The state investigation of Spectacle and Ratcliff began in January 2020 after a federal investigation emerged into allegations that a longtime Ratcliff business partner, former Spectacle vice president John Keeler, illegally funneled casino company money to a former state lawmaker’s unsuccessful 2016 Republican congressional campaign.

The commission says Ratcliff was involved in that scheme, with its filing including 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.

Ratcliff and Keeler, a lawyer who was a Republican legislator for 16 years in the 1980s and 90s, have lobbied the Indiana Legislature for many years on casino matters. They pushed lawmakers in 2019 to allow the Gary casino’s move and construction of a new casino in Terre Haute. They were forced last year to give up ownership in the Terre Haute project to a business partner.

In 2019, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb faced a state ethics review of his dealings with Ratcliff.

Ratcliff and Keeler were leaders of the former Centaur Gaming and among those who formed Spectacle after selling Centaur’s horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville to Caesars Entertainment Corp. in 2018 for $1.7 billion.

Centaur was a key lobbying force behind the Legislature’s decision that allowed both horse tracks to open the first Indianapolis-area casinos in 2008.

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