Tait, Indiana Gaming’s high official, is stepping down subsequent month

Posted: Aug 22, 2021 at 5:02 am

Last updated: August 21, 2021, 10:39 a.m.

Steve Bittenbender

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Sara Gonso Tait will step down as executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, Governor Eric Holcomb announced on Friday.

Sara Gonso Tait Indiana
Indiana Gaming Commission executive director Sara Gonso Tait (far right) helps cut the ribbon to mark the opening of the retail sports betting store at Horseshoe Southern Indiana in September 2019. She will be led by (from left) Louisville Sports Commission President and CEO Karl Schmitt, Green Bay Packers and Notre Dame legend Paul Hornung, Indiana State Rep. Karen Engleman and Indiana State Sen. Erin Houchin. On Friday, Governor Eric Holcomb announced that she would be leaving this position next month to pursue private sector opportunities. (Image: Casino.org)

Tait was appointed by the then government to oversee the day-to-day operations of the commission. Mike Pence in June 2015. Prior to succeeding Ernest Yellon, she was General Counsel to the Commission for a year and recently celebrated her 10th anniversary with the agency.

A firing from the governor’s office said Tait will resign effective September 10 to seek opportunities in the private sector.

As executive director, Sara demonstrated a strategic vision for the Indiana Gaming Commission that has delivered strong results in economic development while maintaining the highest level of integrity, ”Holcomb said in a statement. “Your leadership and innovation has had a positive impact on the state of Indiana that will continue beyond your time with the Indiana Gaming Commission.”

Holcomb also announced that Greg Small, who joined the IGC as General Counsel six years ago this month, will serve as its new Executive Director effective September 11th.

Indiana gambling is a major engine of the state’s economy as it generates more than $ 500 million in tax revenue annually. The state’s casinos, sportsbooks, and other stakeholders create more than 12,000 jobs across the state.

“I am leaving the Indiana Gaming Commission after achieving significant goals and feeling confident that my tenure has served the agency, the industry and the state well,” said Tait. “This role was more than I had hoped for and it was a privilege and an honor to be CEO. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I am really grateful to Governor Holcomb and his office for the incredible support, trust and opportunity to grow. “

Employed two year period for Indiana Gaming

To say the past two years of Tait’s tenure with the Indiana Gaming Commission have been eventful would be an understatement.

The expanded gaming legislation passed two years ago came into effect on July 1, 2019. Less than two months later, with the opening of the first sports betting retail outlet in early September, the Intergovernmental Conference passed emergency regulations for sports betting.

However, this law gave more than just Indiana sports betting. It also allowed the riverboat casinos in Gary to move inland and open a license to Terre Haute. (More on that in a moment) It also speeded up the process for the state’s racetracks to offer live dealer table games.

She also worked in negotiations with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians for a Class III gaming contract for the tribe’s South Bend Casino – the first such contract for the state.

An agreement on the pact was reached in January, approved by state lawmakers in the spring, and approved by federal officials on July 2. Earlier this month, Pokagon and Indiana leaders gathered to celebrate the official launch of table games at the casino.

Indiana was also one of the states hard hit by Eldorado Resorts’ acquisition of Caesars Entertainment. The state’s approval of this merger was initially dependent on the newly merged company selling three of its five properties.

Earlier this year, the commission voted to reduce the divestment to two, and the transfer of the second casino – Caesars Southern Indiana – was approved earlier this week.

And of course there was the COVID-19 pandemic that hit all gambling states. The casinos in Indiana had to close for three months, with the casinos gradually expanding their capacity over time.

Spectacle Investigation leads to Ratcliffs Ouster

However, the topic that has dominated the Indiana Games for the past 19 months has been the investigation by Spectacle Entertainment.

Gambling Commission officials learned from a federal court case in Virginia over illegal campaign donations that Spectacle executives who previously worked at Centaur Gaming were linked to a plan to transfer Centaur funds to a Congressional candidate in Indiana in 2015.

The investigation led to charges against a former Spectacle executive, John Keeler, last fall. Keeler’s license was suspended, and he was

It also resulted in Rod Ratcliff being kicked out of the gambling industry earlier this year. Ratcliff founded both Centaur and Spectacle and was key to starting horse racing in the state.

But when Indiana officials investigated Spectacle, they uncovered other issues besides the campaign contributions. Investigators found that unreported share transfers were taking place within the company, and even after Ratcliff voluntarily agreed to step down as Chairman and CEO of Spectacle last year, they learned that he was still involved in the day-to-day operations of the Majestic Star Casino in Gary was.

This led to his license being withdrawn in December.

Ratcliff sued the commission in January claiming he had not received due process prior to his suspension. In the lawsuit, his attorneys argued that the December hearing at which he was suspended on an emergency injunction was an attempt to force him to sell his stake in Gary Casino at a discount to Hard Rock.

And while his license was suspended, the state learned that he had failed to disclose $ 900,000 in racing deposits in profit and loss statements on an application for a gaming license in 2018.

Eventually, the parties reached a settlement that resulted in Ratcliff dropping his lawsuit, selling his stakes in Gibson and Hard Rock, and agreeing not to appeal the license suspension.

The commission also fined $ 530,000 – or $ 10,000 a day – for every day it failed to reach an agreement to split from Ratcliff. Tait said this was the first time a casino owner failed to honor a commission order.

Investigation of Affected Casino Licenses

The investigation had profound effects on the two licenses Spectacle held with the Majestic Star, which operated on two boats in Gary’s Buffington Harbor.

After selling Centaur, which owned the Indiana Grand and Hoosier Park racetrack casinos, to Caesars Entertainment, Ratcliff co-founded Spectacle Entertainment with Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson to buy the Majestic Star.

In July 2019, it was announced that the land-based Gary Casino would be operated by Hard Rock International in partnership with Spectacle

State law allowing the move to an inland casino in Gary cleared the second Majestic Star license granted to Terre Haute, in western central Indiana. Vigo County’s voters voted in a referendum in November 2019 to allow casino games there.

A month later, Spectacle and Hard Rock submitted the only application for Terre Haute.

In early January 2020, Spectacle and Hard Rock, along with local and state officials, pioneered Hard Rock Northern Indiana, a $ 300 million casino in Gary. About two weeks ago, IGC officials announced the start of their investigation into Spectacle.

The investigation resulted in a three-month delay in the official award of Terre Haute’s casino license, and the IGC didn’t approve it until May 2000 after Ratcliff and Keeler agreed to part ways. Gibson, now the leader of the Terre Haute Project, named the company Lucy Luck, with plans to still run a Hard Rock casino an hour west of Indianapolis.

That $ 120 million project didn’t move forward over the next year, however, as Gambling Commission officials raised concerns about potential leadership candidates and lack of funding details. In June, the IGC took the drastic step of not renewing Lucy Luck’s license.

A new submission process for the Terre Haute license has begun, with applications due on September 22nd.

The investigation has also affected Spectacle’s position in Hard Rock Northern Indiana. On Wednesday, the IGC approved a plan that will make Hard Rock International the majority owner of Gary Casino and will significantly reduce Spectacle’s stake.

Even if the licensing situation is resolved, Spectacle is still being investigated, deputy director Jenny Reske told Casino.org this week.

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