At long last, a new Hard Rock Casino in northern Indiana is set to open — without the chairman of the development company that built it.
The $300 million gaming facility in Gary will open May 14, according to the Chicago Tribune, after the settlement of a dispute involving alleged improper financial dealings by Rod Ratcliff, the former chairman of Indianapolis-based Spectacle Entertainment, which built Hard Rock Northern Indiana. The state fined Spectacle $530,000 for not immediately removing Ratcliff as a trustee, the Terre Haute Tribune-Star reported.
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The casino will hold a soft opening with a friends and family event May 11, the Chicago Tribune report said, with a VIP event the next day before opening to the public.
The Hard Rock in Gary had initially scheduled a phased opening beginning Dec. 31, 2020, but a state investigation into Ratcliff’s alleged financial wrongdoings delayed those plans. State officials claimed the Spectacle CEO funneled nearly $1 million in casino company money into his own horse race wagering account and made improper job offers to government lobbyists.
Ratcliff, long a power player in the Hoosier State casino industry, allegedly had employees at a former company transfer around $900,000 to his personal horse wagering account, and did not disclose the earnings as required by his state gambling license.
Days before Hard Rock Northern Indiana’s planned opening, the state gaming commission temporarily suspended Ratcliff’s gaming license due to the investigation. Ratcliff responded with a lawsuit filed in January, which further placed the opening of the $300 million Gary facility in flux. Complicating matters further, a federal investigation was opened into alleged improper campaign contributions made by a Spectacle vice president, a scheme state regulators claimed Ratcliff was also part of.
The charges led the Spectacle brass to give up their ownership stake in a company formed to develop a casino in Terre Haute, Indiana. Ratcliff ultimately agreed in March to sell his stake in the Gary project and permanently relinquish his Indiana state casino license, paving the way for the Hard Rock facility to open.
Hard Rock Northern Indiana, built off Interstate 94, is a newer and potentially more lucrative inland replacement for the Majestic Star Casino, a facility on Lake Michigan which Spectacle purchased in 2019 with the intent of moving it and rebranding. The relocated facility could generate $75 million in net new revenue for the state, Spectacle officials claimed at the time of the sale.
Majestic Star, built in the mid-1990s and at one point operating under a license held by former president Donald Trump — who sold it for $253 million in 2005, well before his presidency — fell behind the times as newer, flashier casinos opened throughout the Midwest. The new Hard Rock is expected to break ground on a 200-room hotel in two to three years, complementing a 200,000-square-foot casino area that includes 2,764 gaming positions, restaurants, bars, retail shops and a concert venue.
The Gary casino will be the ninth gaming facility in the U.S. operated by Hard Rock, and it continues the company’s entry into the Midwestern market. Hard Rock casinos are also in development in Cincinnati and Rockford, Illinois.