Feds Say Video Gambling Machine Magnate Rick Heidner Is Not a Target of Investigation

  • U.S. Attorney said lack of “substantial evidence” eliminates Heidner as target for now
  • Heidner’s name was on warrants related to former State Sen. Martin Sandoval corruption scandal
  • Heidner was going to build a racino, but the governor decided not to sell him the land
  • Gaming Board is looking to pull his video gaming license over possible “illegal inducement”
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After his name appeared on a warrant related to former Illinois State Sen. Martin Sandoval’s corruption scandal, Gold Rush Gaming founder Rick Heidner has been told he is not a target of an investigation. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

No “substantial evidence” pointing to Heidner

The owner of one of Illinois’ largest video gambling terminal suppliers is not quite off the hook. But for now, he is not the focus of a public corruption investigation. U.S. Attorney John Lausch told Gold Rush Gaming founder Rick Heidner in a June letter that he is “not a target” of a federal probe into backroom political dealings in Illinois.

Heidner’s name appeared in warrants related to the investigation after authorities raided Sandoval’s office last fall.

In January, Illinois State Senator Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty in federal court to corruption charges relating to hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes he accepted from red-light camera company SafeSpeed to protect the company’s interest in the legislature. Heidner’s name appeared in warrants related to the investigation after authorities raided Sandoval’s office last fall.

Heidner, however, has never been accused of doing anything wrong. In an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times, his spokesperson said: “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.”

Though Lausch did say that Heidner is not a target of the investigation, he emphasized that this doesn’t mean he won’t ever be a target. He wrote: “Of course, this representation is based on the information known to this office as of the date of this letter and could change.”

Racino plans disrupted

Heidner had been looking at the closed Tinley Park Mental Health Center property in Chicago’s southwest suburbs as a location on which to build a senior living complex. But when the state’s gambling expansion bill became law, he decided that he wanted to turn it into a racino instead.

He partnered with Hawthorne Race Course general manager Tim Carey on the venture, and the two were granted a license by the Illinois Racing Board. That allowed them to offer harness racing, but they were still waiting on a gaming license for traditional casino games and slots from the state’s Gaming Board.

In October 2019, a month after Heidner and Carey received the racing license, the governor announced he would not sell the Tinley Park land – owned by the state – to them. No specific reason was given for the reversal.

Battle with state Gaming Board

Heidner ran into more trouble in December when the Gaming Board began the process of trying to strip him of his video gambling license. In what his spokesperson says is an “orchestrated smear campaign,” the board claimed that Heidner offered a $5m “inducement” to the owner of a company that owns dozens of video gaming venues in order to keep Gold Rush machines in the establishments.

it was a payment made for the purpose of keeping the machines in Laredo’s establishments

In November 2018, the CEO of Laredo Hospitality Ventures told Heidner that his company was being purchased by Daniel Fischer, who planned on removing Gold Rush machines from the 44 locations. A week and a half later, Heidner met Fischer to, as the Sun-Times reported, “arrange a purchase” of Laredo for $5m more than what Fischer had paid for it.

A complaint filed with the Gaming Board alleged that this qualified as an “illegal inducement” because it was a payment made for the purpose of keeping the machines in Laredo’s establishments.

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