Slowly but surely the story of corruption and crony capitalism in Indiana’s vaping law is being revealed. Every week brings new twists, many of which were known or rumored before the law even passed. In fact, vaping advocates warned legislators and the public as loudly as they could last year, as the law was being considered.
The Indianapolis Business Journal just ran a story outlining the connections between business interests that benefited from the monopolistic vaping law and a huge Indiana casino company. Politicians reacted with shock — maybe real, probably feigned — but this information was widely known as the law was snaking its way through the state legislature.
The casino connection
Centaur Gaming is the owner of two Indiana casino/horse tracks and three off-track betting operations. The company commands a lot of political influence in the state. And, despite their protests of ignorance, the state legislators who voted for this law probably weren’t completely unaware of the connections.
A lobbyist that represents Centaur also worked for Indiana Vapor Company, owned by Zak Laikin, who was a primary force behind the law. Laikin now heads the association that represents the licensed e-liquid manufacturers.
According to the IBJ, that lobbyist, James Purucker hosted fundraising events for legislators at an off-track betting facility owned by Centaur. Gambling businesses aren’t allowed to make donations to political campaigns, or even provide indirect contributions. Purucker claimed he paid for the events himself.
Sen. Ron Alting of Lafayette was one of the lawmakers who held fundraising events at the Centaur location. He sponsored the 2016 revision of the vaping law. The law was carefully designed to give one security company control over which e-liquid companies would be able to receive licenses.
According to the IBJ article, that company — Mulhaupt’s of Lafayette — is owned by a high school classmate of Alting’s. The senator hasn’t responded to the paper’s requests for comment.
During a hearing for one of the lawsuits challenging the law, the security company’s owner Doug Mulhaupt said that he had discussed the bill (before it became law) with Centaur executive vice president Kurt Wilson. Wilson wouldn’t discuss the specifics of that conversation with the IBJ. “I really don’t feel at liberty to talk about private conversations I have with him about business matters,” Wilson told the paper.
In addition to the lobbying alliance, three of the companies approved by the state’s Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to manufacture e-liquid in Indiana are owned by people who worked for Centaur Gaming or owned stock in the company in the past.
DNM Ventures LLC of Bonita Springs, Florida is partly owned by Denise Nicole Murray, who is also an employee at the Winner’s Circle, an off-track betting establishment in Indianapolis. According to the IBJ, her Indiana Gaming Commission license lists her place of employment as Hoosier Park, a casino owned by Centaur Gaming.
The owners of VapING LLC of Lafayette, and Cloudtown LLC of Cleves, Ohio, are both owned by people who have been shareholders at Centaur. Neither company was manufacturing e-liquid when they applied for a license in Indiana, the IBJ reported.
Two legislators and Hoosier Vapers chairman Evan McMahon have told the IBJ that they have been questioned by the FBI about the vaping law. Between the FBI interest, the local newspapers’ new excitement about the story, and the court decision forcing the state to license Goodcat LLC to sell e-liquid in the state, Indiana vapers are finally feeling some optimism about getting the law fixed in the next legislative session.
But nothing that happens now will fix the businesses that have closed, or restore the jobs that have been lost.