Chicago $450 Million Racino Plan Controversially Ended

  • Gold Rush Gaming owner Rick Heidner was leading Tinley Park's racino project
  • Chicago Tribune report revealed alleged links between Heidner and mobster
  • Governor Pritzker no longer selling state-owned land to Heidner, no reasons given
old sign reading no sale
The $450m Tinley Park racino project will not be going ahead after Illinois Governor Pritzker decided to not sell the land to Rick Heidner. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Latest setback for casino gambling in Chicago

Plans to develop a $450m racino at Tinley Park in South Chicago are no more.

J.B. Pritzker will no longer sell the state-owned land

It was earlier in 2019 that the owner of the video gaming terminal firm Gold Rush Gaming, Rick Heidner, applied for a racino license. The request got approval from the Illinois Racing Board (IRB) in September. Following approval, many said Heidner was helping to save horse racing in the state. 

However, these plans will not go ahead, as Governor J.B. Pritzker will no longer sell the state-owned land at Tinley Park to Heidner.

Newspaper report alleges mob connections

The decision to not sell the land comes only a few days after the publication of a report in the Chicago Tribune about Heidner. The newspaper claimed that Heidner has links with alleged mob figure Rocco Suspenzi, who is the Parkway Bank and Trust’s board chairman.

The two men reportedly have a real estate partnership. In 2012, Suspenzi was convicted of running an illegal gambling operation through a strip club and tax evasion.

There has been no mention that Governor Pritzker’s decision came following the publication of the newspaper report, or from details arising from a federal search warrant. 

Raid led to evidence of potential mob ties

While Heidner denies any involvement with the mob, findings from a recent FBI raid led to contradictions of this claim. The raid saw the office and home of Illinois Senator Martin Sandoval searched as part of a corruption investigation.

The search reportedly found evidence linking Heidner and the senator, which instigated the Chicago Tribune‘s decision to take a closer look at Heidner’s background. The newspaper investigation unearthed an alleged link between the Gold Rush Gaming owner and Suspenzi.

Heidner made an appearance at the IRB hearing on the case this week. He categorically denied having any connection to the mob, adding that all his business relationships were fully disclosed to the Illinois Gaming Board. He concluded by saying,

I have no affiliation with the Mafia at all.”

Suspenzi’s previous links with casinos in the state

In 2003, the Illinois Gaming Board identified Suspenzi as having hidden his ownership stake in a casino called the Emerald. He was the chairman of the Parkway Bank at the time.

There were allegations that Parkway Bank was responsible for a seven-figure loan to another investor in this casino project who also had mob ties. The loan was reportedly financing this other person’s investment stake.

Following an investigation, the Emerald Casino’s license was canceled by the gaming board, and the project was never brought to completion. Suspenzi did not receive any convictions over this case, pleading his Fifth Amendment rights during a hearing. 

Plans for local economy boost halted

The local community had responded positively to the announcement of the racino license approval. It was hoped the local economy in the Chicago suburb would get a nice boost from the addition of the new $450m facility. 

Playing in the Park LLC was planning to start harness racing at the site by December 2020. It would have been the first new racing track to open in the state in almost 75 years. There are only three tracks still in operation in Illinois. 

Heidner and his business partners were yet to actually apply for the casino license for Tinley Park. Their plan was to have as many as 1,200 slots machines and table games on offer.