For around 30 years, Rod Ratcliff has been involved in Indiana gaming. At the inauguration for his latest project, Hard Rock Northern Indiana in Gary, the chairman and CEO of Spectacle Entertainment talked about his association and his relationships with state lawmakers who back in the late 80s and early 90s, tried to get land-based casinos in the northwest Indiana town.
He was grateful for their contributions in his life.
Over almost 25 years, he’s held at least a share in four of the state’s casinos, as well as both of its racetracks. He may have a stake in a fifth casino within a month, if the Indiana Gaming Commission sanctions the Spectacle-Hard Rock application for the available license in Vigo County.
Last year was an epic year for gaming in the Hoosier State. The government passed a law which legalized sports betting, increased the timeframe for the racinos to offer live table games, permitted Gary to finally get a land-based casino, and gave Vigo County voters an opportunity to vote for a casino – which they approved overwhelmingly.
Ratcliff told the crowd in Gary on Jan. 9 that the expanded gaming law was the biggest gaming bill state lawmakers had passed since the 1993 legislation that opened the door to riverboat gaming. So, if there’s going to be any discussion about the future of gaming in Indiana, it should start with someone who’s been there from the beginning.
Ratcliff told Casino.org, in the near-term, he expects the gaming operators and the state to rest awhile and let the lately moved parts settle.
He said, “I can’t guarantee that, but what I see, it looks like to me we’re a state that usually looks at doing something major maybe every 10-15 years. “Something major, it seems to me, was last year.”
Tribal Compact Forthcoming
There are still some things the state needs to deal with with gaming in the short term. Most important is the tribal compact discussions with Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, who run the Four Winds tribal casino in South Bend.
The tribe can only run Four Winds as a Class II casino, without a gaming compact, rather than the Class III casinos the state licenses. The key differences between the two is that the South Bend casino cannot provide table games or sports wagering, and Four Winds has publicly said it wants to have a sportsbook.
In the talks with the Potawatomi tribe, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, Sara Gonso Tait, is representing Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration. She said compact talks are continuing in a statement to Casino.org.
Any decision reached would require approval by the Indiana General Assembly. Their session is slated to end this year within March 12.
Tait said, “The obligation to negotiate in good faith is mandated by federal law. As such, the negotiation process could be undermined if we were to regularly provide public updates. If a compact is reached, it will undergo a public legislative process pursuant to state law, and if the parties are able to reach that point, we will be in a position to address the compact at that time.”
Tait added, “The State and Pokagon Band have had productive compact negotiations to date. However, negotiations are not complete, and a tribal-state compact has not been executed. As such and given the short legislative session, it is not anticipated the General Assembly will be asked to consider ratification this session.”
Ratcliff said Spectacle backs the initiative to get Four Winds a gaming compact. Four Winds is around an hour away from the currently running Majestic Star riverboats Spectacle runs in Gary and the Hard Rock, which will replace the boats. Moreover, there are three other state-licensed casinos nearby Lake Michigan.
Efforts to reach tribal officials for comment were in vain.
Jon Ford, Indiana state Senator, who helped write the 2019 expanded gaming bill, informed Casino.org he doesn’t expect a tribal compact to be presented to the General Assembly in Indianapolis until next year. However, he admitted that is the next gaming issue the state needs to solve.
He said, it’s iGaming after that. Michigan passed an extensive gaming bill last month, which will bring online casino gaming to the state, and Kentucky, to the south of Indiana, is discussing a sports betting bill which would also permit online poker.
Ford (R-Terre Haute) in Indiana, said there has to be a discussion soon and that comprises if that type of gaming would be iLottery or casino-style.
He added, it’s a discussion which will possibly happen in the next three to five years.
He said, “When you look at states like New Jersey, they’ve had it for four or five years. It’s been hugely successful. Hasn’t hurt brick and mortar casinos.”
Also, Ratcliff, thinks iGaming is coming in the future. However, he sees it, as, like he noted earlier, part of another big movement 10-to-15 years from now.
But Ratcliff openly confesses, he’s been wrong before.
Ratcliff said, “I’m the one who said there’s no way sports betting would ever happen in the state of Indiana because of the NCAA being in Indy, and three years later, it was here.”