A Carmel legislator who questioned whether he should vote on the state’s gaming bill was cleared by an ethics committee one day before legislation passed through the Indiana General Assembly.
Concerns by Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, reflect the mood inside the chambers as the bill came to a vote on April 24.
Torr is vice president of business development for Hamilton National Title, also known as Near North Title Group, which prepared paperwork in the sale last year of two Gary casinos to Spectacle Entertainment.
One of Spectacle's licenses could be moved to Terre Haute under this session's gaming bill.
"Out of an abundance of caution, I wanted to make it clear that I wasn't being influenced by that," Torr said Wednesday. "I just wanted to ask the ethics commission to make sure they agreed with me, and they did."
Based on Torr's initial request for an opinion, the House Committee on Ethics found that no conflict of interest existed that woujld be in violation of two House rules involving direct personal interests and avoiding appearances of impropriety.
In his April 23 letter to the House Ethics Committee, Torr said he did not know about the future gaming expansion bill at the time that the Gary sale closed. When he found out, he talked with his CEO and asked to not be included in receiving any commission from the Spectacle deal.
“Nevertheless, given some of the news stories over the past couple of days, I thought it would be in the best interest of the institution for me to request a formal opinion from the Ethics Committee,” Torr wrote.
That same day, Torr was cleared by six House members including committee chair Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica. Torr voted April 24 for the bill, which passed the House 59-36.
House Bill 1015, which has not been signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb, would allow one of Spectacle Entertainment’s casino licenses in Gary to be transferred to Vigo County if voters support it in a referendum.
In March, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis and an attorney, said he would not participate in discussions nor vote on the bill because he had performed legal work for Vigo County and the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board. The contract was reportedly initiated by Greg Gibson, one of two principal owners of Spectacle.
Bosma sent a letter citing his decision to recusing himself from debate.
Within days, The Indianapolis Star reported that Holcomb went on two private jet flights supplied by Spectacle. The charters were included in $500,000 that Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff and his companies contributed to the Republican Governors Association, which helped fund Holcomb’s gubernatorial campaign.
Torr said news reports led him to write to the ethics committee to see if there were any concerns over his role with his company and the then-pending gaming vote.
"I was very comfortable with all that until we got close to the vote and then the other news stories kind of came out just a few days before that, and so I thought out of an abundance of caution I probably should get an opinion from the ethics committee just to make sure they agree that I don't have a direct conflict," Torr said.