Indiana Governor Flew On Casino Executive’s Jet
An Indianapolis Star report indicated Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (l.) accepted flights Spectacle Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Rod Ratcliff’s private jet while Ratcliff urged changes to state law that would benefit his company. Spectacle wants to move one of its Majestic Star Casino licenses to a land-based location in Gary and the other to Terre Haute.
The Indianapolis Star recently reported Spectacle Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Rod Ratcliff provided private jet flights for Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb while Ratcliff was promoting changes to state law that would benefit his company, which recently became the owner of the Majestic Star Casinos in Gary. The Republican Governors Association reported to the IRS a flight in July to Aspen, Colorado but a flight to Scottsdale, Arizona in November was not reported; that took place one day before Ratcliff and business partner, Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson, announced the Majestic Star acquisition. One of the flights cost $20,000, according to tax records.
The flights gave Ratcliff and his business partners hours of exclusive access to Holcomb, who will approve Spectacle’s plans to move one of the Majestic Stars’ licenses to a land-based location in Gary and the other to Terre Haute. At the time of the Arizona flight, Ratcliff’s plans still required regulatory approval from the Indiana Gaming Commission, whose members are appointed by Holcomb; that approval was granted in March. However, legislators still are considering changes to Indiana’s gaming laws that would impact Spectacle’s plans and also would have to be approved or vetoed by Holcomb.
Holcomb’s flights to Colorado and Arizona on Ratcliff’s plane were part of $500,000 Ratcliff and his businesses contributed to the RGA in 2018. In addition, the newspaper reported since 2016, Ratcliff’s companies have contributed more than $1 million to the RGA, which provided most of Holcomb’s campaign financing. Also since 2016, Ratcliff’s companies have given $577,500 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national organization that helps down-ballot statewide and legislative candidates.
Those contributions don’t include smaller donations from individual Spectacle investors. Gibson and his companies have donated $20,000 to Holcomb since 2016.
Indiana law prohibits campaign contributions from casino interests, but not donations from them to national organizations. As a result, many see Ratcliff’s donations to the RGA as a maneuver around the law.
Holcomb’s campaign treasurer, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer, defended the flights as “perfectly legal and customary.” He said the flights were arranged by the RGA, which often flies governors to its conferences, and should have been reported by that organization. “I cannot speak directly to the context of conversations the governor may or may not have had with passengers on board the aircraft as I was not necessarily involved in each and every discussion or interaction,” Hupfer said. He added, “It is a prudent use of his time to engage” with casino leaders, just as it would be for him to meet with other “job creators.” He added, “Governors regularly utilize donated flights from private pilots or organizations in order to expedite travel to and from political fundraising events and party/campaign functions.”
Spectacle attorney John Keeler said the flights did not violate any rules. “It is what it is. We belong to the RGA. We had an extra seat or two on the plane, the governor flew along with us. Not a big deal. Our conscience is clear. We’ll be sleeping tonight.”
An analysis conducted by a Spectacle competitor estimated moving the Gary licenses from their current locations would generate $790 million for the company.