After an investigation that lasted more than a year, Gold Rush Gaming owner Rick Heidner is back in good standing with the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB).
The board revoked Gold Rush’s video gaming license in 2019 amid claims that Heidner offered $5 million to a gambling parlor chain owner who planned to remove Heidner’s slot machines. Gold Rush is one of the largest video gaming operators in the state.
The IGB settled with Heidner and renewed Gold Rush’s license. Gold Rush will pay a total of $75,000 in fines and fees.
While that has to be considered a win for Heidner, he’s been something of a notorious character in the Illinois gaming industry over the years.
This was the latest dust-up, even though the IGB investigation turned up little. Here’s why Heidner’s name has been in the news so frequently over the last few years.
Illinois governor squashes ‘racino’ project
In 2019, Heidner was the lead man on a Tinley Park “racino” project, and was hailed as someone who could save the Illinois horse racing industry.
In a letter, Pritzker said that the state-owned land was no longer for sale.
Specifically, the investigation showed that Heidner had a business relationship with Rocco Suspenzi, chairman of the board at Parkway Bank and Trust.
In 2003, the IGB found that Suspenzi hid his ownership stake in a casino project, the Emerald. A reputed mobster partially funded the project, and in 2005, the IGB revoked Emerald’s license.
Then, they scrapped the casino entirely.
The Tribune investigation also turned up Heidner’s 2012 real estate partnership with a man who’s been convicted of tax evasion and running an illegal gambling operation.
FBI raid led to Tribune investigation
The same day the Illinois Racing Board granted Heidner the Tinley Park licensee, FBI agents raided the late State Sen. Martin Sandoval’s home as part of a corruption probe.
Sandoval would resign after pleading guilty to bribery. He then died of COVID-19 last fall.
The FBI search-and-seizure warrant instructed agents to seize any documents regarding Sandoval and Heidner’s business dealings. This led the Tribune to look more closely into Heidner, which revealed the Suspenzi relationship.
Heidner wound up not being a target of the federal investigation. However, the raid kicked off a series of events that ultimately killed the racino project in a dramatic fashion.
Latest IGB Heidner investigation unrelated to those events
As if all of that wasn’t enough, the latest Heidner controversy is an entirely new one.
IGB officials launched an investigation into Heidner after text messages surfaced that the board said amounted to “illegal inducement.”
Dan Fischer, the owner of Illinois Cafe & Service Co. (ICSC), purchased a chain of gambling cafes and planned to remove Heidner’s slot machines from them. The losses accounted for about a quarter of Gold Rush’s revenue.
Then, text messages between Heidner and Gary Leff, who sold the chain to Fischer, surfaced. After meeting with Fischer, Heidner wrote to Leff:
“I begged him not to destroy me, my family and my company. I spent a humiliating hour-and-a-half. The first thing I asked was if he would sell and I could get a group together quickly and would get him $5,000,000 more than he paid please make $5 (million), in a week. I told him none of my friends wanted to see this happen to me. He obviously said no.”
That exchange was the basis of the IGB’s investigation.
But at a recent board meeting, Administrator Marcus Fruchter said new evidence “added clarity and context to the events underlying the disciplinary complaint.”
The board then unanimously approved the settlement. Part of the settlement, $30,000, is due to the “unprofessional conduct” Heidner displayed in “disparaging text messages unrelated to the disciplinary complaint.”
The other $45,000 was to reimburse the board for administrative and investigative costs.
Heidner, for his part, feels vindicated. He said in a statement:
“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.”
Other Heidner lawsuits ongoing
Although the battle between Heidner and the IGB is over, other lawsuits involving Gold Rush are still ongoing.
Fischer owns ICSC. In 2019, ICSC sued Gold Rush for failing to remove their machines from the newly purchased cafes.
Gold Rush then countersued ICSC and claims that Midwest SRO, another terminal operator, paid an additional $44.5 million to replace Gold Rush machines. The filing alleges that it’s part of a sham transaction and that it violated Illinois gaming rules as an “improper inducement.”
Fischer, meanwhile, is also the lead pitchman for the Hard Rock Rockford Casino project. The IGB found Hard Rock Rockford “preliminarily suitable” for a casino license but has yet to grant final approval.