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Pritzker’s new gambling guru takes over: ‘These are not ordinary times’

“Achieving and preserving the integrity of the gaming industry and Illinois will be at the heart of my tenure on this board,” Charles Schamdeke said, as the state embarks on its massive gambling expansion.

Newly appointed Illinois Gaming Board chairman Charles Schmadeke speaks at his first board meeting Thursday at the Michael A. Bilandic Building.
Newly appointed Illinois Gaming Board chairman Charles Schmadeke speaks at his first board meeting Thursday at the Michael A. Bilandic Building.
Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Newly appointed Illinois Gaming Board chairman Charles Schmadeke pledged Thursday that regulators “will not compromise on issues of integrity” as the state is poised to go all in on its unprecedented gambling expansion.

“In ordinary times, our work would be challenging, but these are not ordinary times,” the Springfield attorney said during his first public board meeting at the Bilandic Building in the Loop.

Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker tapped Schmadeke to serve as the face of the agency currently tasked with licensing and overseeing Illinois’ 10 existing casinos and nearly 32,000 video gambling terminals.

“We are facing a large expansion of the gaming industry in the state, including the Chicago casino, and as we undertake our challenges, let us remember that the goal of this expansion was threefold: assisting economic development, promoting Illinois tourism, and increasing state and local government revenues,” Schmadeke said.

Illinois Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter (left) and chairman Charles Schmadeke listen to a speaker at Thursday’s meeting.
Illinois Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter (left) and chairman Charles Schmadeke listen to a speaker at Thursday’s meeting.
Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Among the “substantial” tasks facing the board are licensing six new casinos, including a 4,000-gaming position giant in Chicago, plus a new “racino” in the south suburbs; nearly doubling the positions at most other casinos to 2,000; adding even more video gaming machines to the mix; offering slots and table games at Illinois’ three existing horse racing tracks and introducing sports wagering.

And that’s all being thrown at an agency that insiders say has never had adequate funding or manpower to keep proper tabs on the thousands of gambling sites statewide.

Schmadeke, who previously served as a top legal aide to four Illinois attorneys general and a comptroller before going into private practice, said keeping public trust “in the credibility and integrity” of gambling operations was paramount.

“Maintaining that confidence must undergird everything we do,” he said. “Achieving and preserving the integrity of the gaming industry and Illinois will be at the heart of my tenure on this board.”

No major movements were made at Thursday’s meeting as gaming board staff continues to draft rules for the expansion rollout. Gaming board administrator Marcus Fruchter — himself on the job barely three months — said some emergency rule provisions regarding the casino and video gaming expansions would be released next week. But while some horse tracks and casinos already are primed to break ground on sports books, there’s no timeline for sports wagering to get off the ground.

Fruchter also said the Las Vegas firm contracted to conduct a study on the feasibility of the potential Chicago casino was still expected to submit their report on Monday.