ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The awarding of the license for Terre Haute’s new casino is up in the air after a guilty plea to campaign finance violations.
Maryland political consultant Chip O’Neil pleaded guilty to using straw donors to disguise the source of contributions from Centaur Gaming to former Greenwood Senator Brent Waltz’s 2016 campaign for Congress. Centaur owned the racetrack casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville at the time. It’s since sold those properties, and its top executives now hold the same positions with Spectacle Entertainment, which owns Gary’s Majestic Star Casino and is the only applicant for the one in Terre Haute.
The Gaming Commission had tentatively planned to consider the Terre Haute license at its meeting in two weeks. That hearing has now been postponed while the commission investigates further. A statement from the agency calls the allegations “concerning,” and says it’s also reviewing the impact on Spectacle’s construction of a new casino in downtown Gary.
The commission has the authority to impose discipline ranging from fines to the revocation of Spectacle’s Gary license.
Federal prosecutors describe the gaming company’s vice president and general counsel, former Indianapolis Representative John Keeler, as a co-conspirator. Waltz is described only as the recipient of the campaign donations. Neither is identified by name in court papers, and neither has been charged. Centaur isn’t identified by name either but is clearly the company described, and the Gaming Commission says it understands Centaur to be the company involved.
Waltz finished fourth in a five-way Republican primary with 13-percent of the vote, losing to now-Congressman Trey Hollingsworth.
Besides O’Neil, two other officers of Strategic Campaign Group are named as co-conspirators and have already pleaded guilty to other charges. The firm’s president, Kelley Rogers, was sentenced last week to three years in prison for wire fraud. Prosecutors say the firm raked in millions from donors but used nearly all the money to build their mailing list rather than passing it along to candidates as promised.
O’Neil’s plea bargain indicates he’s cooperating with prosecutors. He’s expected to receive a sentence of six months to a year, though the charge against him carries a theoretical maximum of five years.
Cover image artist rendering of proposed Rocksino