From real estate to racino: Suburban developer’s rise to video gambling kingpin, name in search warrant

Rick Heidner has been a key player in Illinois’ video gambling industry. Now he’s caught the attention of federal investigators.

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Rick Heidner, pictured at a 2019 Illinois Racing Board meeting. State regulators have settled a disciplinary complaint against Heidner’s video gambling company.

Rick Heidner pictured at a Sept. 17 Illinois Racing Board meeting.

Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times file

He’s made a big name for himself in Illinois’ burgeoning video gambling industry.

And his name popped up in a proposal to help revive the ailing world of horse racing.

Now Rick Heidner’s name has been tied to a state senator facing scrutiny from federal investigators.

FBI agents went looking for “items related to” the real estate developer-turned-video gambling-entrepreneur last month when they raided the Springfield office of Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, according to a search warrant released Friday.

Heidner, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, told the Sun-Times he didn’t know why his name came up in the search warrant, but he suggested it could be tied to his political contributions over the years — gifts totaling nearly $715,000 over the last two decades, state election board records show.

Many of those contributions have come as Heidner has increased his stakes in the video gambling industry, which launched in Illinois in 2012.

His Gold Rush Gaming — which is also named in the Sandoval warrant — is now the third-largest video gambling operator in the state, providing thousands of slot machines to 529 bars, restaurants and other establishments statewide, according to Illinois Gaming Board records.

And his state gambling reach is poised to expand into horse racing as part of Illinois’ massive gaming expansion.

Harness racing at Hawthorne Race Course in 1996.

Harness racing at Hawthorne Race Course in 1996.

Chicago Sun Times archives

Heidner, who runs a suburban real estate development company, last year had been eyeing the shuttered Tinley Park Mental Health Center location as the site for a senior living complex.

But that changed this year when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the new gaming bill into law, authorizing a combination racetrack/casino, Heidner told the Illinois Racing Board last month.

Heidner changed course to go all in with Hawthorne Race Course general manager Tim Carey as partner on the so-called racino development, and last month they were granted a license from the Racing Board.

Heidner and Carey still need Gaming Board approval to operate slots and table games at the racino at 183rd Street and Harlem in Tinley Park. They’re aiming to start harness racing by next December.

Hawthorne Race Course general manager Tim Carey (left) and real estate developer Rick Heidner (right).

Hawthorne Race Course general manager Tim Carey (left) and real estate developer Rick Heidner (right).

Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Carey, who is not mentioned in the Sandoval warrant, did not return a message seeking comment.

The governor’s office said Pritzker is not concerned that Heidner’s links to the federal probe will affect implementation of the gambling bill.

“Gov. Pritzker has appointed qualified professionals to the Illinois Gaming Board, who he believes will regulate the industry to ensure all who participate in it are abiding by high ethical standards,” said Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh. “Corruption and self-dealing will not be tolerated, and our administration is currently reviewing all procurement and contracting processes to ensure they are rigorous, transparent and fair.”

Besides $11,500 Heidner has contributed through his companies to Sandoval’s campaign since 2015, he has donated to dozens of other politicians running the gamut of state and local government.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has received $31,500 from Heidner’s companies over the years, while Illinois Senate President John Cullerton received $16,000, election board records show. McCook Mayor Jeff Tobolski, who has also found himself in the feds’ crosshairs, has received $18,100 from Heidner’s company.

Contributing: Rachel Hinton, Tina Sfondeles and Jon Seidel

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