Illinois regulators have given up their effort to dismantle one of the state’s largest video gambling empires as part of a legal settlement with the company’s controversial founder, who agreed to pay $75,000 in fines and fees.
Suburban gambling kingpin Rick Heidner and his Gold Rush Amusements Inc. will keep operating his slot machines “in good standing” at more than 600 establishments across the state under the deal approved Wednesday by the Illinois Gaming Board.
That agency’s administrator, Marcus Fruchter, moved to revoke Heidner’s gambling license in December 2019, claiming Heidner had offered up a $5 million “illegal inducement” to the owner of a gambling parlor chain that planned to remove Heidner’s slots. State gambling law prohibits “giving anything of value to an establishment as an incentive” to use a company’s machines.
But more than a year into the case, new evidence “added clarity and context to the events underlying the disciplinary complaint,” Fruchter said before Gaming Board members unanimously approved the settlement.
Heidner had maintained the allegations were part of an “orchestrated smear campaign” by Dan Fischer, a competitor who remains in a heated legal battle with Heidner. Court records stemming from that ongoing lawsuit show Gaming Board investigators are now considering discipline against Fischer, who’s also the lead investor in a group that has received preliminary approval to break ground on a new casino in Rockford.
“After 18 months of denying false accusations from adversaries and fighting to protect my business, my family and my reputation, I’m grateful that the IGB closely reviewed and considered the facts and evidence demonstrating that I did not offer an illegal inducement as the disciplinary complaint alleged,” Heidner said in a statement.
Heidner’s attorney, former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, said the settlement “vindicates” Gold Rush and claimed regulators only went after Gold Rush “in reaction to misleading media reports.”
Heidner was put under the microscope in October 2019 when his name surfaced in a federal search warrant connected to a sweeping public corruption probe that has ensnared several top state lawmakers. That summer, federal agents went looking for items related to Heidner and Gold Rush, among other entities, when they raided the offices of then-state Sen. Martin Sandoval and McCook Mayor Jeff Tobolski.
Within days, Gov. J.B. Pritzker pulled the plug on Heidner’s other major gambling prospect, refusing to sell state-owned land in Tinley Park for the video gambling magnate to break ground on a new combination horse racing track and casino — an ambitious project that previously had appeared on the fast track to state approval.
But last summer, Chicago’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney John Lausch, took the rare step of signing a letter confirming Heidner was “not a target of this investigation.”
Sandoval later resigned and pleaded guilty to bribery, before he died of COVID-19 last fall. Tobolski has since resigned and pleaded guilty to an extortion scheme.
In his Gaming Board settlement, Heidner agreed to pay $45,000 in administrative and investigative costs stemming from the complaint, plus a $30,000 fine “for disparaging text messages unrelated to the disciplinary complaint.”
Heidner also agreed to drop his own lawsuit against the agency filed last year after a Gaming Board employee allegedly leaked his company’s confidential information to three federal agencies in violation of state law.