Corruption Scandal Threatens Future of Online Poker in Indiana

No iGaming bill will be introduced in Indiana in 2024 following a massive scandal involving a former Representative and a local gaming company, pushing back the hopes of legal online poker in the state by at least a couple of years.
Corruption Scandal Threatens Future of Online Poker in Indiana
By
November 30, 2023

While Indiana was considered by many to be one of the likely candidates to introduce online poker in the near future, a recent bribery scandal put a stop to the process, as iGaming proponents announce they will not be introducing an online poker bill in 2024.

Former Representative Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville) admitted to receiving bribe from Spectacle Entertainment, a gaming company that sought to relocate gaming licenses within the state to two new in-land locations, making the topic of online poker a non-starter for the time being.

Despite iGaming having strong support in the state of Indiana prior to the scandal, House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers), Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville), and other proponents agree that the statehouse has been too tainted to proceed with such a bill at this time.

What’s even more, this scandal means not only delay for online poker in Indiana in 2024, but could also present significant problems moving forward, as any pro-gaming movement might come across strong opposition every step of the way.

Eberhart Takes Bribe from Spectacle Entertainment

The whole bribery scandal started back in 2018, when Rep. Sean Eberhart championed a bill that looked to transfer two gaming licenses from floating casinos to in-land locations owned by Spectacle Entertainment, a company started by former Centaur Holdings LLC executives, following Caesars’ purchase of Centaur Holdings.

The bill suggested that Spectacle Entertainment pay just $20 million for the license transfers instead of the $100 million required by law, and also qualified the company for certain tax incentives.

After the bill was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2019, a license was granted to Hard Rock Nation Indiana, but former Spectacle Entertainment CEO Rod Ratcliff was forced by Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) to relinquish his stake in the company, while it refused to sell a license for the construction of a casino in Terre Haute to Spectacle co-founders.

Later investigation by the FBI led to Rep. Eberhart admitting to taking bribe from Spectacle Entertainment in this case, as he was promised a position at the company with a yearly salary of no less than $350,000.

Now, Eberhart faces up to five years in prison, as well as up to three years of probation following his prison sentence, as well as a $250,000 fine. The courts may decide to go easy on Eberhart, who has promised to pay back $60,000 in restitution (his full yearly salary), but it remains to be seen what the final judgment in the case will be.

Bleak Future for iGaming in Indiana

Advocates for iGaming have been working hard on passing a bill that would regulate online casino games and online poker in Indiana for many years, with separate bills being introduced in 2021,2022, and 2023, all failing in the committee.

Progress was made as the most recent report by Spectrum Gaming Group in 2022 stated that such operators would not cannibalize revenue from state’s land-based establishments, and operators like PokerStars, WSOP, BetMGM, and RSI all sought to form partnerships with local casinos to start iGaming skins.

The most recent bill suggested that each of Indiana’s 13 casinos be given up to three skins for iGaming, and that the state immediately join the MSIGA, allowing operators to bring Indiana poker players into their interstate player pools.

As things stand, there will be no bill introduced in 2024, which presents a significant blow to any hopes of online poker being launched in Indiana in near future, as the corruption scandal continues to resonate through the state and paint a negative picture for gaming industry as a whole.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling (VACPG) helpline at 1-888-532-3500

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