The Indiana inspector general has concluded no state laws or ethics rules were violated when Gov. Eric Holcomb last year flew to two Republican Governors Association meetings on private planes paid for by the parent company of Gary's Majestic Star casinos.
In an investigative report released this week, Inspector General Lori Torres determined Holcomb was under no obligation to list the trips as gifts on his state financial disclosure statement because the flights were arranged by the RGA, intended to benefit the RGA, and reported, as required, to federal tax authorities as in-kind contributions to the Republican governors group.
According to the IG report, Spectacle Entertainment, formerly known as Centaur Gaming, spent $21,486.15 to fly the governor and wife Janet Holcomb to the July 22-25 RGA meeting in Aspen, Colorado, and $33,961.95 to take the Holcombs to the Nov. 27-29 RGA meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Holcomb is RGA policy chairman and a member of the organization's executive committee. In those roles, Holcomb is expected to assist the RGA in its mission of electing more Republican governors and to meet with RGA donors, according to the IG report.
The RGA also was the top contributor to Holcomb's 2016 gubernatorial campaign, due in part to the organization's role in redirecting to Holcomb contributions returned to donors after Gov. Mike Pence's aborted his re-election bid to run for vice president.
"Although it is likely that the governor's attendance at the RGA meetings, and therefore the flights, had some benefit to the governor and/or first lady, the OIG found no evidence to dispute the claim that the flights primarily benefited the RGA," Torres said.
The complaint alleging ethical misdeeds was filed by Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody, following an Indianapolis news report detailing the flights just as Spectacle was seeking legislative approval to relocate its Gary casinos from Lake Michigan to a land-based site in the Steel City.
Zody claimed at the time that Holcomb taking flights paid for by the casino company — even though the flights occurred before Spectacle officially took ownership of Majestic Star — was "shady," "unethical" and made it appear that Holcomb is "bought and sold by special interests."
The Democrat did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the inspector general's report clearing the governor.
Kyle Hupfer, Indiana Republican chairman and manager of Holcomb's re-election campaign, said there's never been any question that the Holcombs' travel "was arranged for by the Republican Governors Association and the travel benefited the Republican Governors Association."
"The inspector general's report confirms this fact — the same fact we have repeated time and time again," Hupfer said.
In May, Holcomb signed House Enrolled Act 1015, authorizing Spectacle to consolidate and relocate its two Majestic Star casinos at one site within Gary.
Pending regulatory approval, Spectacle plans to construct a $400 million casino, hotel and concert venue immediately south of the Borman Expressway at the Burr Street exit that will be the 13th Hard Rock Casino in North America.
Spectacle leaders have said they hope to open the doors to Hard Rock Casino Gary on Dec. 31, 2020.