he Indiana Gaming Commission has told the parent company of Gary’s Majestic Star Casinos to be ready to operate its gambling boats along Lake Michigan until at least June, instead of moving forward with plans to close them in March or April when the new in-land, Hard Rock-branded $300 million casino in Gary was expected to open, The Northwest Indiana Times reported. The Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana could be unused for possibly months after construction work is completed.
The step was taken to keep the existing casino operation in business after the commission moved in December to force a longtime executive in Indiana’s gambling industry to give up his ownership stake in Spectacle Entertainment, which owns the existing casinos and the under-construction Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana. The regulators unanimously imposed a 90-day emergency suspension of former Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff's occupational license.
“Unfortunately, the actions of parties associated with Spectacle have created a high level of uncertainty regarding both suitability and project timeline,” said Sara Gonso Tait, the commission’s executive director. “Until an acceptable path forward is identified, the commission will continue to act within its authority to protect gaming revenues and employees at the current operation in Gary.”
Ratcliff filed a lawsuit against the commission in January, arguing it wrongly acted against him without allowing a fair hearing on allegations that he continued exerting control over the company in violation of state orders. The commission has said Ratcliff put in motion a scheme to illegally funnel casino company money to a former state lawmaker’s unsuccessful 2016 Republican congressional campaign. Ratcliff’s lawsuit maintains that state regulators have interfered with his efforts to sell his 22% share of Spectacle and were trying to force him to take a “fire-sale price” from Hard Rock International.
Former Spectacle vice president John Keeler was indicted in September on federal charges over the alleged straw donor contributions. Ratcliff hasn’t been charged in the federal case and he denies any wrongdoing. Attorneys for the commission have asked a Lake County judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing Ratcliff has not exhausted his administrative appeals. A court hearing is scheduled Tuesday on Ratcliff's request to temporarily halt enforcement of the commission's order suspending his license.
Meanwhile, Hard Rock is continuing to recruit, hire and train hundreds of employees for the new casino along Interstate 80/94 that its website, and roadside billboards across the state, still say is scheduled to open in spring 2021.
Hard Rock is working with the state commission and Spectacle Entertainment to resolve the ownership dispute and “remains committed to the successful completion of the Hard Rock Northern Indiana project,” said Jon Lucas, the company’s chief operating officer.
Once open, the Hard Rock Casino is slated to offer 1,650 slot machines and 80 table games; a sportsbook and bar; six restaurants, including a Hard Rock Cafe; a Rock Shop retail store; and a 2,000-seat Hard Rock Live venue for concerts and other entertainment.