At a virtual meeting, the Indiana Gaming Commission approved Friday a $125 million project for the development of a casino complex in the city of Terre Haute.
A decision on the plan was initially expected to be delivered by the seven-member regulator in March. However, the Gaming Commission put its ruling on hold after executives at the casino operator vying to build the Terre Haute facility got embroiled in a political donations scandal and became subject to federal investigation.
Indiana casino company Spectacle Jack, a subsidiary of Spectacle Entertainment, was issued a license in Friday to build and operate a gaming complex in Terre Haute in partnership with Florida-based casino and hospitality powerhouse Hard Rock International.
The parent company’s CEO Rod Ratcliff and General Counsel John Keeler were the company executives that got entangled in the above-mentioned scandal. Both have stepped away from Spectacle’s Terre Haute scheme to expedite the company’s license application process.
Jennifer Reske, Deputy Director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, said on Friday that the regulator was able to issue the Terre Haute casino license to Spectacle only because Mr. Ratcliff and Mr. Keeler gave up their ownership stake and the company submitted a new application.
Ms. Reske further noted that the commission had wanted to see the $125 million casino plan move forward but that would have not been possible without the ownership changes.
Spectacle Jack is now controlled by Greg Gibson, a Terre Haute businessman who has served as Vice Chairman of Spectacle Entertainment, and Jim Brown, Spectacle Entertainment’s Executive Vice President.
News emerged in January that a Maryland-based political consultant had pleaded guilty to illegally directing funds from an Indiana-based casino operator to a state lawmaker who ran for the US Congress in 2015. The case was prosecuted in Virginia.
The Indiana Gaming Commission identified the casino company as Centaur Gaming, which had been formed namely by Mr. Ratcliff and Mr. Keeler. The operator directed $15,000 to former Indiana Senator Brent Waltz who ran for the US House of Representatives.
Gaming Commission Chairman Michael McMains told Mr. Gibson on Friday that the ownership change was a necessary step that if not done, would have derailed Spectacle’s effort to build a casino in Terre Haute.
The company and its partner Hard Rock want to develop a 100,000-square-foot casino in the Vigo County city. The facility will be called Rocksino and will feature table games, slot machines, and sports betting as well as a 300-seat live entertainment theater and dining outlets.
Mr. Gibson told gaming regulators that they plan to break ground on the facility this coming fall and to launch it in September 2021. Terre Haute is Indiana’s first new community to be allowed to host a casino since 2008.
Spectacle currently operates two Majestic Star riverboat casinos along the city of Gary. Last year, a sweeping gambling overhaul passed by Indiana lawmakers paved the way for the company to move the casinos onto dry land.
Spectacle and Hard Rock were allowed to build a $400 million hotel and casino complex in Gary. The company will use one of its Majestic Star licenses to operate the new property. It surrendered the other license to the Indiana Gaming Commission.
The regulator designated the vacant license to Terre Haute and Spectacle is now the holder of that license.