GARY — There no longer should be any discordant noises coming from the ownership of the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana.
The Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) unanimously approved an agreement Wednesday transferring majority ownership in the $300 million gaming, dining, and entertainment destination to Hard Rock International, a business enterprise of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Hard Rock already owned part of the Gary casino that opened to the public May 14, and Hard Rock was contracted to operate it on behalf of the former majority owner, Spectacle Entertainment Group.
But the Gary casino license was in jeopardy with state gaming regulators due to Spectacle's myriad legal issues, including the industry exodus of its former CEO, the federal indictment of its former vice president, and some Spectacle investors suing the IGC in an effort to avoid background and financial investigations the IGC believes are needed to prevent corruption in the state's gaming industry.
Under the agreement, Hard Rock paid Spectacle an undisclosed sum to acquire at least 85% ownership of the Gary casino.
According to an IGC order, the proceeds will be used to redeem the shares of Spectacle's minority investors — ending any basis for their challenge to the IGC investor integrity rules — as well as most of the holdings of Spectacle's controlling shareholder, previously identified as Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson.
Records show Gibson still will have an approximately 15% ownership stake in the Gary casino.
However, he's agreed to act as an "institutional investor" and will exercise no control over day-to-day operations at the Hard Rock Casino, according to the IGC.
According to Hard Rock, the new board of managers for the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana will be comprised of members appointed by Hard Rock and an independent member deemed acceptable to the IGC.
The casino's corporate officers will be Hard Rock executives with extensive gaming experience and Hard Rock will continue as the exclusive manager and operator of the Gary casino, records show.
After settling the ownership issues, the IGC unanimously voted to award Hard Rock a one-year renewal of the state gaming license required to operate the Hard Rock Casino.
Jon Lucas, Hard Rock International chief operating officer, said the company is pleased with the performance of Hard Rock Casino President Matt Schuffert and his team, of which he said more than 75% live in Lake County and more than 30% live in Gary itself.
Lucas also noted the Gary casino generated $78 million in gross gaming revenue in its first 79 days of operation by growing the Region's gaming market, served 150,000 food and beverage patrons since opening, and led all Indiana casinos last month for the amount of money wagered at table games.
The Hard Rock Casino also continues working to vaccinate its employees against COVID-19 and recently donated $200,000 to several charitable and nonprofit organizations in Northwest Indiana, according to Lucas.
"Hard Rock International remains a committed corporate citizen to the city of Gary and welcomes the opportunity to grow our interest in the northern Indiana region," Lucas said.
Going forward, Lucas said the sports book at the Hard Rock Casino is expected to open in late September or October, and big-name musical performances should begin at the 1,950-seat Hard Rock Live starting in late October or November.
Live music at the Hard Rock Casino, located adjacent to eastbound Interstate 80-94 at the Burr Street exit, already is playing in the Hard Rock Cafe and the lounge at Council Oaks Steak and Seafood.
The Hard Rock replaced the two former Majestic Star Casinos that operated on Lake Michigan at Gary's Buffington Harbor from 1996 until April 18.
The second Gary casino license was reassigned by the 2019 Indiana General Assembly to Terre Haute and held for 13 months by Gibson's Lucy Luck Gaming, which had many of the same investors as Spectacle.
In June, the IGC declined to renew the Terre Haute license after determining Gibson made no visible progress toward constructing a west-central Indiana casino and there was questionable financing for the project.