House approves limits on gambling officials’ access to governor

Gov. Eric Holcomb

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana House has responded to a newspaper’s report on private jet flights that Gov. Eric Holcomb got from a casino magnate by inserting a provision into a sweeping gambling bill that would limit gambling officials’ access to Indiana’s governor.

The House voted 61-28 on Thursday to require the governor’s office to post 48 hours’ notice before having meetings with certain gambling industry officials. The provision also specifies that those meetings would have to be open to the public.

The amendment was added to a bill Spectacle Entertainment has been pushing that could allow it to move its two Gary casinos, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The newspaper reported last month that Spectacle’s chairman and CEO, Rod Ratcliff, enjoyed hours of exclusive access to Holcomb last year when he flew him to meetings in Colorado and Arizona.

Both events were hosted by the Republican Governors Association, which funded the vast majority of Holcomb’s 2016 gubernatorial campaign, contributing $7.6 million.

The two flights Holcomb received were among $500,000 that Ratcliff and his companies contributed last year to the Republican Governors Association, which supports the election of GOP governors throughout the U.S.

Democratic Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, of South Bend, proposed the amendment requiring that meetings between the governor and gambling officials be public. He referenced the Star’s story Thursday and said that no one will ever know what Ratcliff and Holcomb discussed.

“How would we know?” he asked. “It wasn’t a public meeting. It wasn’t announced.”

The governor’s office declined to comment.

Following The Star’s report on Holcomb’s flights, the governor’s campaign treasurer and Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer defended the flights as “perfectly legal and customary” in a two-page written response to the newspaper.

The Indiana Democrat Party is calling for investigations into Holcomb’s flights. Party Chairman John Zody sent a letter Friday to the office of the Indiana Inspector General seeking an investigation into whether Holcomb accepted a gift in violation of state ethics rules.

Zody also delivered a letter Friday to the Indiana Election Division requesting a determination that Holcomb failed to disclose the flights on his campaign finance report.

“It’s tough for the Governor to not look captured by special interests when he’s racking up frequent flyer miles aboard their private jets for free,” Zody said in a statement. “Taxpayers deserve a governor who works for them.”

Holcomb’s campaign has said the flights didn’t need to be disclosed on his state campaign finance reports or as a gift on his financial disclosure form because they were arranged by the Republican Governors Association.

The House will vote Monday on the gambling bill that includes the public meeting measure. A House-Senate committee likely will negotiate a final version before the legislative session ends later this month.

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