Gambling kingpin ‘not a target’ for feds
Federal investigators might have been interested in Rick Heidner’s ties to a crooked exstate senator, but the video gambling kingpin is not in the crosshairs of the feds himself.
But that could change, the area’s top fed says.
Ten months after FBI agents went looking through ex-state Sen. Martin Sandoval’s offices for documents related to dozens of people and businesses including Heidner’s lucrative Gold Rush Amusements slot machine firm, Chicago’s top federal prosecutor sent a letter assuring Heidner’s attorneys that the beleaguered entrepreneur “is not a target” of a sweeping public corruption investigation that has ensnared some of Illinois biggest political heavyweights.
“In the context of a criminal investigation, a ‘target’ is a person who is linked by substantial evidence to the commission of a crime and who, in the prosecutor’s judgment, is likely to be charged,” U.S. Attorney John Lausch wrote in a June 26 letter, provided by Heidner’s team and first reported by WTTW.
“At this time, your client is not a target of this investigation. Of course, this representation is based on the information known to this office as of the date of this letter and could change,” Lausch wrote.
It’s unusual for top prosecutors to write letters such as the one Lausch sent.
When authorities raided Sandoval’s offices in September 2019, Heidner had been poised to launch an ambitious new horse racing track and casino project in Tinley Park.
But when Heidner’s name surfaced in search warrants released publicly a month later, Gov. J.B. Pritzker pulled the plug on Heidner’s “racino,” refusing to sell state land for the project that represented a key part of the Democratic governor’s massive state gambling expansion.
Sandoval has since pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from a red-light camera company, in return for blocking legislation that would’ve put the brakes on its business.
And Heidner, whose slots sit in more than 500 bars, restaurants and lounges across the state, has never been accused of wrongdoing.
“A media spotlight has been on Mr. Heidner and Gold Rush Amusements since October 2019 when their names appeared in conjunction with government search warrants that resulted in inaccurate speculation about Mr. Heidner,” his spokesman said in an email. “Mr. Heidner is confident that he and Gold Rush have acted properly and he will continue to take appropriate action to restore his reputation against the false and misleading narrative that has been advanced publicly since last year.” Even out from under the federal microscope, Heidner is entrenched in a lengthy legal fight to keep his multimillion-dollar business alive.
The Illinois Gaming Board filed a disciplinary action against Heidner in December seeking to revoke his gambling license for allegedly offering up a $5 million “illegal inducement” to the owner of a gambling parlor chain that planned to remove Heidner’s machines. Heidner’s team has said it’s all part of a “smear campaign” orchestrated by a competitor with whom he’s also wrangling in civil court.
The feud with the regulatory agency was ratcheted up in February, when Heidner sued the Gaming Board for allegedly leaking loads of his sensitive personal information to three government agencies in violation of state privacy laws. Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter deemed it “an isolated incident involving one employee who acted alone and outside the scope of their duties.”
On top of that, like all other gaming operators in Illinois, Heidner lost more than three months of business because of the COVID-19 shutdown.
With Heidner’s machines turned off from March 16 through July 1, records show Heidner secured a federal PPP loan to keep his Hoffman Estates business afloat. His spokesman said Heidner received just under $1 million. The Gold Rush application indicated the loan through Parkway Bank and Trust Company helped retain 120 jobs.