Indiana Supreme Court likely ends legal career of onetime Gary casino executive

A former casino executive and attorney who helped clear a variety of legal thickets to establish what is now the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana will likely never practice law in the Hoosier state again.

The Indiana Supreme Court recently suspended the law license of John Keeler for at least 545 days, or about 18 months, after Keeler pleaded guilty on April 18 to filing a false tax return as part of a scheme to obtain $25,000 to hide in impermissible contributions. A Marion County Republican Party political action committee.

The suspension was issued without automatic reinstatement. As a result, Keeler, 73, can only get his law license back after the suspension period if he shows clear and convincing evidence of his remorse, rehabilitation and fitness to practice law to the state Supreme Court.

Hard Rock Casino President Matt Schuffert gives Times Reporter Dan Carden a guided tour of the new Hard Rock Northern Indiana a week before the opening.

Keeler is currently serving a two-month sentence at a federal prison camp in Montgomery, Alabama. He is scheduled to spend one year on supervised release starting Dec. 11.

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Records show that Keeler’s illegal conduct occurred in 2016 in connection with his role as vice president and general counsel of New Centaur LLC — the owner, at the time, of the two horse-track casinos in suburban Indianapolis.

After selling those properties, Keeler and other Centaur officials formed Spectacle Entertainment to acquire Gary’s Majestic Star Casinos and later develop what is now the Hard Rock Casino.

Keeler, a Republican former state representative from Indianapolis, worked tirelessly to ensure the 2019 General Assembly approved moving Gary’s casinos from Lake Michigan to a more accessible site off Interstate 80/94 at Burr Street.

He also helped unravel vexing property ownership issues at the chosen site and appeared repeatedly at Gary zoning and Community Board meetings to pave the way for construction of the $300 million gaming, dining and entertainment destination.

Keeler left Spectacle in 2020 after he and former state Sen. Rep. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, was indicted on federal campaign finance charges.

Waltz pleaded guilty in April to using straw donors to fund his unsuccessful 2016 Republican congressional primary campaign and lying to FBI agents. He was incarcerated at the federal correctional institution in Ashland, Kentucky, until July 23, 2023, records show.

Hard Rock International, a business of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, has operated the Hard Rock Casino in Gary since it opened on May 14, 2021.

It took ownership of the property from Spectacle in August 2021 after the Indiana Gaming Commission identified other possible wrongdoing involving top Spectacle officials and several Spectacle shareholders refused to comply with the commission’s casino owner integrity rules.

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