Former Gary casino owner admits to bribing state lawmaker in exchange for political favors

Spectacle Entertainment, the former owner of Gary’s Majestic Star casinos and the initial developer of the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana, is involved in a public corruption case. It extracted an agreement from a former state lawmaker. Indianapolis-based U.S. Attorney Zachary Myers confirmed that former state Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, agreed to a future job with Spectacle paying at least $350,000 a year. This was in exchange for Eberhart working to advance legislation through the Indiana House foue years ago, including several provisions favorable to Spectacle.

Eberhart, 57, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud in connection with the payoff. He faces up to five years in prison, but will likely serve much less time for cooperating with federal authorities. He also agreed to repay the $60,000 he earned from the state for his work during the 2019 legislative session.

U.S. attorney Zachary Myers has not yet indicated whether other Hoosier lawmakers received similar payoffs from Spectacle. Spectacle as formed in 2018 by Rod Ratcliff, John Keeler, and other individuals generally associated with Centaur Gaming, the parent company of Indiana horse track casinos. Shareholders included entities linked to prominent Hoosier Republicans, including Dan Dumezich, Stephen Hilbert, Matthew Whetstone, and Dan Hasler.

Spectacle then acquired two individually licensed Majestic Star casino boats located on Lake Michigan in Gary. They then sought legislative approval to relocate one license to a land-based location in Gary and to use the other to open a new casino in Terre Haute. Debate on the casino moves was fierce at the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Spectacle offered Eberhart a high-paying future job in exchange for his efforts to reduce the casino transfer fee to $20 million, and to enact other tax incentives benefiting Spectacle. Records show Eberhart sent text messages regarding his efforts to secure legislation favorable to Spectacle and to “make it right for” Individual A. The U.S. attorney has also obtained “call records involving Eberhart, digital images of documents sent to and/or received from Eberhart and others, covert recordings of conversations with Eberhart, and audio and video recordings and other records of statements and actions in the Indiana Legislature.”

The Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana, which opened in Gary in 2021, is set to mark two years as the state’s top-earning gaming destination, as an enterprise of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Ratcliff’s interest in the Gary casino was acquired by Hard Rock International in 2021. They also agreed to permanently exit the Indiana gaming industry in 2021. This followed his reported role in a campaign finance scheme that sent former state Sen. Brent Waltz and Keeler to prison.