INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The Indiana Gaming Commission is investigating the company that owns two casinos along Lake Michigan and is seeking to open a new Terre Haute casino after a political consultant pleaded guilty to federal charges of illegally funneling campaign contributions for an Indianapolis-based gaming company.

The commission said Friday the federal case in Virginia involving executives of Centaur Gaming, whose executives formed Spectacle Entertainment in 2018, prompted it to cancel the Feb. 7 meeting that was set to consider granting Spectacle the Terre Haute casino license. Prosecutors only identify it as “Company A” in court documents while saying it was involved in a scheme directing more than $15,000 in illegal corporate contributions to an Indiana congressional candidate.

“The information we received is concerning and the Commission has begun a review pursuant to its statutory responsibilities into this matter,” said a statement from Deputy Director Jennifer Reske.

Spectacle’s executives have been active lobbyists in the Indiana Legislature for many years, and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb faced a state ethics review last year of his dealings with Spectacle CEO Rod Radcliff.

Spectacle officials said they are cooperating with the investigation.

“Spectacle Entertainment has been made aware that a paid consulting firm, who once contracted with Centaur Gaming, has been implicated in charges related to campaign finance violations in Virginia,” the company said in a written statement. “Spectacle pledges to fully cooperate with the Indiana Gaming Commission as it investigates this matter. We take such matters very seriously and we will share more information should additional details become available.”

Spectacle also owns the two Gary casinos along Lake Michigan and won state legislative approval last year to close them in favor of building a new $400 million casino at a more lucrative on-land site along Interstate 80/94 in Gary. The company was the only one that submitted a bid for the casino license in Terre Haute, where it is proposing to build a $125 million casino and potentially hire 600 workers.

The new state investigation comes after Charles O’Neil, a vice president of Virginia-based Strategic Campaign Group, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to make illegal campaign contributions. He admitted to arranging for several people write checks to the Indiana candidate’s campaign in 2015 with casino company money funneled through a fake $38,500 contract with Strategic Campaign Group for political work, according to court documents.

Strategic Campaign Group President Kelley Rogers was sentenced last week to three years in prison for fraud as part of the federal investigation of fraud by the firm.

The Indiana candidate isn’t identified by prosecutors, but Federal Election Commission records indicate it was Republican former state Sen. Brent Waltz of Greenwood, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2016, The Washington Post reported.

Waltz told the Indianapolis Business Journal that he was interviewed as part of an investigation of Rogers about 18 months ago.

“Mr. Rogers was a consultant for the campaign in the summer of 2015,” Waltz said. “I have answered every question asked of me by investigators. To the best of my knowledge all campaign contributions from my 2016 congressional campaign were legal. I will cooperate with any investigation.”

Radcliff and Keeler were top executives of Centaur Gaming, which sold Indiana’s two horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville to Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. in 2018 for $1.7 billion. They soon formed Spectacle to buy the Gary casino operation along Lake Michigan and lobbied state legislators last year to allow its move to an on-land location.

The Indianapolis Star reported in March that Radcliff treated Holcomb to private jet flights in 2018 as they traveled together for meetings hosted by the Republican Governors Association in Colorado and Arizona. But the state’s inspector general concluded the governor committed no wrongdoing as it determined the flights were provided to the governor’s group rather than Holcomb’s office.

The flights were among $500,000 Ratcliff and his companies contributed in 2018 to the Republican Governors Association, which gave Holcomb $7.6 million of the $14.5 million he spent on his 2016 election campaign.

While the investigation may slow things down, Sen. Jon Ford, who co-authored the legislation to bring a casino license to Terre Haute, said it won’t stop a casino from coming to the city.

“The license is attached to Terre Haute,” he said. “Once we approved the referendum for the license, it positioned the license here in Terre Haute.”

Even if the IGC denies Spectacle Jack’s application, Ford said the license would most likely be open for bid again; however, he doesn’t necessarily think it will come to that.

“I think it’s premature to really think about if the application wouldn’t go through,” he said.

Ford noted that having only one applicant fast-tracked and otherwise long process. He doesn’t anticipate the investigation slowing down the overall timeline or the economic growth on the city’s eastside.

“These kind of things are slow and tedious,” he said. “We’ve been going at this for quite a while already, and that’s just kind of the nature of big significant economic development projects.

What the investigation will mean for the Terre Haute casino license moving forward remains unclear, but Mayor Duke Bennett said he is remaining hopeful the situation will work out.

“If it adds a few months on, I mean, so be it. But if it adds a long period of time on of course it sets back our future plans of what we want to do when the casino’s up and running and revenue starts coming in,” he said.
“Obviously we want people to go to work . The construction workers and all that, so I think it’s a little premature to know what that means yet. But the longer it goes on, obviously the more of an impact that it has.”

Read the full statement from the Indiana Gaming Commission:

The Indiana Gaming Commission is aware of information contained in court filings in the Eastern District of Virginia yesterday referencing an Indiana gaming company based in Indianapolis in 2015, which we understand to be Centaur Gaming.  Certain key people in that company now own and operate Spectacle Gaming, the holder of the Majestic Star Casino license in Gary.  Spectacle is also currently undertaking a land-based casino project in Gary and pursuing the new casino license in Vigo County.

The information we received is concerning and the Commission has begun a review pursuant to its statutory responsibilities into this matter.  

The meeting tentatively scheduled for February 7th to consider awarding the Vigo County casino license has been postponed in order for the Commission to supplement its investigation of Spectacle.  We are working to ascertain the immediate impacts of this information upon the new casino construction project in Gary.  Majestic Star Casino will continue normal operations at this time.