Friday, June 21, 2024

Gaming the system: Inside the rise and fall of Indiana’s casino king

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IndyStar’s three-part story, “The Rise and Fall of Indiana’s Casino King,” follows the career of the former farm boy from rural Indiana who rose from obscurity to become the state’s most powerful gaming executive.

In doing so, Rod Ratcliff built a Statehouse influence operation virtually unrivaled in modern Indiana history.

Here are some of the highlights.

Part 1: Building a Statehouse money machine

Ratcliff turned a group of farmers into his first funders, then sent a small army of lobbyists to the Statehouse. He aimed for a horse track, ended up with a riverboat casino, and made deep inroads with lawmakers. It was the beginning of a 30-year, multi-million dollar influence campaign.

Read Part 1: The rise and fall of Indiana’s casino king. How Rod Ratcliff built a Statehouse money machine.

Part 2: As cash flows, an empire grows

After learning some valuable lessons from his first project, Ratcliff applied a similar formula to fend off competition and improve the fortunes of his gambling ventures. He continued to find ways to funnel money to state lawmakers, despite a ban on campaign contributions. With a monopoly on horse racing and the value of his casinos on the rise thanks to new laws, he was prepared to make his biggest move yet.

Read Part 2: A growing empire: Money kept flowing to lawmakers as Ratcliff strengthens casino holdings

Part 3: A big bet unravels

To achieve his most audacious plan yet, Ratcliff employed all of his previous influence tactics at the Statehouse ― and then supercharged them. His big gamble appeared to pay off, until federal investigators raided the offices of a Maryland political consultant and stumbled upon an illegal campaign finance scheme that led to Indiana.

Read Part 3: ‘This issue is going to come back to haunt us.’ Ratcliff’s biggest bet yet unravels

How we reported it

IndyStar reporters Tony Cook and Kayla Dwyer analyzed nearly 30 years of lobbying disclosures, campaign finance data, and IRS political organization reports to find that Ratcliff, his companies and his close associates spent at least $12.3 million on lobbyists and political contributions. That doesn’t include millions of dollars in other benefits to state officials, some of which strayed into ethical gray areas.

The story also relied on years of IndyStar reporting, including prior interviews with Ratcliff, court documents, property records, and information provided by current and former lawmakers, lobbyists, investors, regulators and others who followed Ratcliff’s activities at the Statehouse.

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