Greg Gibson
Greg Gibson
Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson on Friday responded to news that Spectacle Entertainment, which is seeking to relocate two casino licenses within Indiana, provided Gov. Eric Holcomb two free, private-jet flights to western-state meetings.

Among the points made by Gibson, one the lead partners in Spectacle Entertainment LLC: 

-- He was on the July 2018 flight, but he had not yet joined Spectacle.

-- On the flight he was on, he was not part of any conversations involving gaming.

-- He's known Holcomb nearly 30 years and doesn't need to get on a flight with the governor to speak to him.

-- As other Spectacle officials and the governor's campaign treasurer, said on Thursday, the flights to meetings hosted by the Republican Governors Association were within the law.

The Indianapolis Star broke the story Thursday, reporting that Rod Ratcliff, chairman and CEO of Spectacle in July and in November 2018 treated Holcomb to two private-jet flights, one to Aspen, Colorado, and one to Scottsdale, Arizona. The RGA was Holcomb's biggest campaign donor in 2016.

One of the flights is valued at slightly less than $21,500 and the other has yet to appear in the RGA's filings to the IRS, the Star reported.

Gibson on Friday confirmed he was on the July flight.

"My wife and I were on the July (2018) trip to Colorado. At the time, I was not a partner in Spectacle. I was considering the opportunity, but had not yet made a final decision," Gibson told the Tribune-Star.

"There were several others on the flight, and the subject of gaming was never raised in any conversation that I was a part of," Gibson said.

"Besides that, there wasn’t anything wrong or inappropriate about the trip, anyway. We were invited to go along after the trip was already planned.

"And here’s another news flash for you, it’s not the first time that I’ve been on a plane with Eric Holcomb," Gibson said. "Eric and I have known each other for nearly 30 years. My wife and I consider Eric and Janet to be close friends.

"We see and speak with them often. I don’t need to get on an airplane to have a conversation with them," Gibson said.

Gibson said the Indiana General Assembly, not the governor, votes on legislation for casinos.

It would, however, fall to the governor to sign or veto any gaming legislation sent to him by the General Assembly. The governor also appoints members of the Indiana Gaming Commission, which had to approve the transfer of licenses to Spectacle, which was formed in March 2018.

The governor, Gibson said, "has not taken part in any of the discussions or negotiations regarding this effort. The legislature will make this decision."

While chairing a meeting of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. last week on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Gov. Holcomb said the state depends "on the revenue that is generated from our casinos from gaming across the whole state.

"I have said, while it is not part of my legislative agenda or administrative agenda, it is something that I am willing to take a second look at because, after all, when all of these (casino) licenses were passed out initially, things have changed over time.

“I think it is appropriate to have this discussion in the Legislature,” the governor said. Because there are two casino licenses in Gary, “it does make sense to me that one of those could be split off and moved to another place," but he said it will be up to the legislature to determine any changes in gaming.

In a memo shared with the Tribune-Star on Thursday, Holcomb campaign treasurer Kyle Hupfer wrote that the direct beneficiary of the flights was the RGA, not the Holcomb campaign.

As such, Hupfer said, it is the RGA's duty, not those of Holcomb's campaign, to report the contributions. The governor's political entities are in compliance with both law and common practice, he said.

John Keeler, attorney for Spectacle, said much the same.

"There is nothing in the law that prohibits making a contribution to the RGA, it is a common practice among casino companies," he said.

Terre Haute casino effort

The Indiana gaming Commission on March 8 approved the transfer of the two Majestic Star casino licenses to Spectacle Gaming.

Spectacle has discussed moving those licenses, which now reside in casinos on the Gary, Indiana, Buffington Harbor. One would move closer to the Boorman Expressway (Interstates 80 & 94), while the other would move to Terre Haute. 

Gary officials have been supportive of the effort, as they are seeking to turn the area of the harbor and nearby airport into a multi-modal transportation hub to boost economic development.

Senate Bill 552, by Sens. Mark Messmer of Jasper and Jon Ford of Terre Haute, would allow relocation of the casino licenses.

While it has cleared the Senate, life got more complicated for SB 552 and the Terre Haute region's effort to land a casino on Wednesday.

In an amendment, the Indiana House Public Policy Committee added a provision that would mandate a $100 million fee if Spectacle wants to move one of its two Gary casino licenses inland from the harbor. Additionally, Spectacle essentially would have to surrender its other license and compete with other casino owners for the chance to move to Terre Haute.

Gibson on bill's status

Gibson said the amendments as they now stand "will essentially kill the relocation efforts, if they remain in a final version of the bill. I hope that common sense eventually prevails.

"I got into this project because I saw an opportunity to help my home county and home state," he said. "The possibility of 400 new jobs and an investment of more than $100 million would be very meaningful to Vigo County, as would millions in additional gaming revenue for the state.

"We realized that this was a daunting task that would have well-funded opposition and face many challenges. I just hope that we can move this legislation forward under reasonable terms."

Ford this week told the Tribune-Star that, all things considered, he was glad SB 552 made it out of the first House committee to consider it, and he's pleased that language directing a casino to Terre Haute and Vigo County remains alive.

The area, he said, essentially remains in the game and can return to the negotiating table.

The bill still has a long way to go if it is to be sent to Holcomb's desk. If it survives, it could be amended further in the next committee -- House Ways and Means -- or it could be modified on the House floor. It also would have to return to the Senate, where it originated, for that body's consideration of changes made in the House.

There has long been an interest Terre Haute and Vigo County in landing an Indiana casino license.

Full House Resorts in 2017 proposed using some of its licensed-but-unused gaming positions from its casino in Rising Sun to Terre Haute for a so-called satellite casino. Legislation to allow that move, however, did not clear the General Assembly.

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