The $300-million Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana is facing the prospect of staying empty, possibly for months once the land-based gambling facility’s construction works are finalized in the weeks to come.
As revealed by the Times, the state’s gambling regulatory body has directed the Majestic Star Casinos’ parent company to be prepared to operate its two gaming boats in Lake Michigan until June at the earliest, instead of proceeding with its previous plans to have them closed in March or April, at the same time when the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana was set to start operation.
This, however, has not been the desired outcome by anyone involved in the development plans for the project. State gambling watchdogs explained they had been forced to potentially delay the expected opening of the new casino venue and keep the operations of Majestic Star on, while the latter still generate tax revenue, until the dispute regarding the ownership of its parent company – Spectacle Entertainment – is finally resolved.
The executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission explained that the new Gary-based casino is important both to the state and local community. The gambling regulator remains focused on seeing the casino project operational. She further shared that the actions of the parties related to Spectacle have created a high level of uncertainty when the project would be completed ad if it is suitable.
So, the Commission has decided to continue acting within its authority aimed at protecting gaming jobs and gaming revenue until an acceptable solution to the situation is found.
Indiana Gambling Regulator Claims Ratcliff Violated Some License Conditions
The controversy associated with the casino involves Rod Ratcliff, the ex-CEO and current shareholder of Spectacle Entertainment. In December 2020, the state’s gambling regulator made the unanimous decision to suspend the occupational license hold by Mr. Ratcliff for 90 days, with the decision suspending him from exercising any influence or control at Spectacle.
The Indiana Gaming Commission explained that an alleged straw donor scheme had been enacted by Mr. Ratcliff to help him funnel funds from a house track-based casino in the central part of the state he owned at the time to the campaign of a Republican primary election candidate in the 9th congressional district of Indiana.
Apart from that, Mr. Ratcliff also faced accusations that he had failed to cooperate with an investigation held by the regulator, that he had acted outside the licensing conditions, altering the terms of a trust agreement, etc.
The suspension of the gaming license held by Ratcliff triggered a pledge that he once made to the state’s watchdog on July 6th, 2020 requiring a trustee independent to indefinitely administer his ownership interest in Spectacle Entertainment. At the time, the Gaming Commission earmarked this commitment as acceptable.
However, instead of proceeding with the plans, Mr. Ratcliff is disputing the suspension of his license, both administratively and in court. The lawsuit was filed on January 20th, 2021 at the Lake Superior Court in Hammond, with Ratcliff claiming that he was rejected due process along with other rights under Indiana legislation.
Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that the suspension of his license hurt his reputation and put in danger the financing for the new Gary casino. As he explained, the unwanted measures might lead to further delay, compromise or might end up canceling the Hard Rock Casino Gary’s development.
The court hearing is set to take place on February 2nd following Mr. Ratcliff’s request for the quest to temporarily cease the enforcement of the gambling regulatory body’s order under which his license had been suspended. The Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana is set to offer 80 table games, 1,650 slot machines and a sportsbook when it starts operation. The facility will also include a retail store, a bar, six restaurants, as well as a concern and entertainment hall.