Holcomb says he supports gaming commission investigation into Centaur

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Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday said he supports the Indiana Gaming Commission’s investigation into casino executives who have been implicated in a federal campaign finance scheme.

Centaur Gaming, which operated the state’s two horse-track racing casinos in Shelbyville and Anderson until selling the properties to Caesars Entertainment in 2018, has been linked to a scheme that involved illegally funneling thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to an Indiana congressional candidate and others in 2015.

Court documents do not name Centaur, but refer to “Company A” as an Indianapolis “gaming” company. The documents also say the vice president and general counsel for that company, referred to as “Person A,” helped coordinate the scheme.

The Indiana Gaming Commission said on Friday that it understands the company referenced in the court documents to be Centaur. John Keeler served as vice president and general counsel for Centaur.

Keeler and Rod Ratcliff, former CEO and chairman of Centaur, are still actively involved in Indiana gambling, but under a different company name — Spectacle Entertainment.

Spectacle was established in late 2018 when it acquired the two casinos in Gary. After successfully lobbying the Indiana General Assembly in 2019, Spectacle received permission to construct a new inland casino in Gary and close the riverboats. The new casino is currently under construction.

Spectacle is also the only applicant for a new Terre Haute casino license. The gaming commission had been expected to award the license to Spectacle at its Feb. 7 meeting, but that meeting has now been postponed for an investigation.

“We need clarity, and we’ll get it,” Holcomb said.

Holcomb said it’s the commission’s job to investigate the allegations, and he would wait for the results of that probe before commenting on what should happen next.

“You’re asking me to comment on something that has yet to be resolved from the investigation perspective,” Holcomb said. “I don’t want to interfere with that investigation in any way whatsoever.”

Last year, Holcomb came under scrutiny for taking two private flights provided by Ratcliff and not disclosing the flights on his 2018 financial disclosure statement. The flights occurred while Ratcliff was lobbying to change state law to allow for the new Gary casino. Holcomb was later cleared of any ethical violation, as the flights were considered in-kind gifts to the Republican Governors Association.

The latest campaign finance allegations against Centaur and Keeler were made public last week after Republic strategist Chip O’Neil, who worked as vice president for the Strategic Campaign Group, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in federal court in Virginia and admitted to funneling money from an Indianapolis gaming company to an Indiana congressional candidate.

The candidate is not named in court documents, but Federal Election Commission campaign finance records indicate the candidate is former Republican state Sen. Brent Waltz, who unsuccessfully ran for Indiana’s 9th Congressional District in 2016.

According to court documents, Company A (believed to be Centaur) signed a contract with Strategic Campaign Group for “services related to U.S. presidential campaigns and campaign finance law” and paid the consulting firm $38,500.

O’Neil then used that money to reimburse several individuals who served as conduits, including himself and his girlfriend at the time, for contributions they made to Waltz’s campaign.

Court documents say the scheme was meant to avoid individual campaign contribution limits, get around the prohibition on corporate donations to federal office candidates and hide the fact that the money was coming from the gaming company.

According to court documents, this all occurred at the direction of Person A, believed to be of Keeler.

At least $16,200 went to Waltz’s campaign through six donations that are specified in court documents, and the donations caused his campaign to “unwittingly file false campaign finance reports.”

Waltz told IBJ that he believed all his campaign contributions were legal and that he’s cooperating with the investigation.

In a statement released Friday, Spectacle said it is cooperating with the gaming commission’s investigation.

“We take such matters very seriously and we will share more information should additional details become available,” the statement read.

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