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Former Circuit Court judge has new responsibilities in Indianapolis

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Not many have said no to "The Donald," but former Clay Circuit Judge Ernest Yelton can count himself among them.

Now, the Executive Director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, Yelton was one of the featured speakers at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner hosted by the Clay County Republican Party Monday night. Along with Rob Carter and David Thomas, Yelton was handpicked by Gov. Mitch Daniels to take on new responsibilities at the state level.

Joking with the crowd of Republicans gathered in the auditorium at the Center Point United Methodist Church. Yelton said that he's better known as Mary Yelton's husband.

During his speech, Yelton talked about his new role and how his decision to say "no" to Donald Trump came about.

But first he joked with the crowd that Gov. Daniels had told him to hold up a picture of him, "and if it's not ridden with bullets, he'll come back."

Yelton explained to Daniels the citizens of Clay County harbor no feelings of ill will toward him for plucking some of the county's key leaders for duties in state government.

After getting a phone call from a former classmate who happened to be the chairman of Daniels' transition committee, Yelton was shocked to hear the Governor was interested in hiring him as head of the Gaming Commission.

"And I thought, 'Holy Cow!' At least the 'holy' part's true," he joked.

Yelton said that while he wanted to discuss the opportunity with his wife he also conducted some research in order to fully understand exactly what it is the Gaming Commissioner must do. After gathering data and speaking with Daniels, he decided to take the position.

"I said, 'Governor, it would be a privilege and an honor to serve you.' So here I am," he told the crowd.

Overseeing 10 riverboat casinos with the assistance of seven lay commissioners who meet on a quarterly basis is part of the responsibility of his position, Yelton said.

The activities of these boats are audited on a daily basis, bringing in revenue amounting to $529,938 each second, 365 days a year. A charge of $3 admission per person is also calculated.

"I should've asked to be paid on commission," he said.

Gaming revenue comes in third after income and sales tax in top funding sources of Indiana's government.

In his first weeks as Executive Director, the Governor assigned him the task of investigating a conditional award for an Orange County gaming facility going to Trump's company. Yelton was responsible for determining whether or not the company was financially capable of following through on its proposal, and whether it was financially viable.

All of the Trump files wouldn't fit in Yelton's office, and he hired an expert bankruptcy attorney as well as a Purdue University professor who conducted the original analysis of the proposal to assist him in his assessment. Delving into the mounds of files was like peeling away layer upon layer of information.

"It was like an onion," he said.

By the time the team had reached the heart of the matter, Yelton discovered that all of the funding was going to the renovation of the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.

"French Lick was subservient to New Jersey before the first shovel of dirt was turned in Orange County," he said.

Trump representatives indicated they were unable to say if or when the company would be able to respond to a solid agreement, but it would be after the company's bankruptcy and reorganization proceedings. He told them that Orange County and Indiana couldn't wait, and terminated negotiations.

It was after that meeting that Yelton answered his cell phone only to hear the voice of Trump himself on the other end of the line.

"The conversation lasted a good 10 minutes," he said.

While Yelton had been firm with Trump's organization, he found the famous tycoon to be both professional and a gentleman during their conversation.

Trump thanked Yelton for his consideration, and even invited him to play a game of golf in Palm Beach.

Meanwhile, two men have come up with a $250 million plan not only to build a riverboat, but to renovate the hotel and resort in French Lick.

If the plan is accepted, Yelton said the town could be restored to its former glory as a Midwest travel destination.

If there was a karaoke machine with only one song, he continued, it would be "Happy Days are Here Again."

With Gov. Daniels in office, more has been accomplished in four months than others have done in four years. While government is not business, the Governor has said there's no reason it can't be treated in a businesslike way, with fiscal integrity.

He concluded, "At last Indiana has a Governor who has done what he said he would do," Yelton said. "There are no smoke and mirrors, ladies and gentlemen."

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