South Chicago Racino Plan Torpedoed by Operator Link to Mob-Connected Banking Family

Posted on: October 16, 2019, 11:18h. 

Last updated on: October 16, 2019, 11:59h.

Plans for a racino at Tinley Park in Chicago’s southern suburbs have hit the skids after the office of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday the plot of state-owned land earmarked for the project is no longer for sale.

Rick Heidner
An emotional Rick Heidner testifies in front of the Illinois Racing Board Tuesday. He says he offered transparency to regulators about all his business dealings. (Image: Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)

The administration’s rebuff is almost certainly a reaction to a Chicago Tribune investigation, published last Friday, that linked the local gaming operator behind the proposal, Rick Heidner, to a banking family that has had financial involvement with Mob figures.

The Tribune found that Heidner, owner of video-gaming terminal (VGT) operator Gold Rush Gaming, has a longstanding business relationship with Rocco Suspenzi, chairman of the board at Parkway Bank and Trust.

In 2003, the Illinois Gaming Board discovered that Suspenzi had concealed his ownership interest in a casino project, the Emerald, along with that of his son Jeffrey and another partner with alleged Mob links. The bank was also found to have lent a seven-figure sum to another reputed mobster to finance a stake in the venture.

Suspenzi took the Fifth during a 2005 Gaming Board hearing. Emerald’s license was revoked, and the casino was never built.

The Tribune discovered Heidner was also in a real-estate partnership with a man who was convicted in 2012 of tax evasion and of running an illegal gambling operation from a strip club.

FBI Raid Pol’s Home

Heidner was hailed as the savior of Illinois horse racing last month when he was granted a license to operate racing at Tinley Park by the Illinois Racing Board.

But on the very same day, September 24, the FBI raided the home and office of State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-12th) as part of a corruption probe, kick-starting a chain of events that ultimately led to the racino project’s demise.

The FBI search and seizure warrant was published last Friday in unredacted form. It instructed agents to seize any documents they found relating to business dealings between Sandoval and Heidner, as well as numerous other companies and local officials.

The possible link between Heidner and Sandoval prompted Tribune reporters to do some digging, and they came up with Suspenzi.

Relationships Disclosed: Heidner

For all the muckraking, Heidner has not been accused of doing anything illegal. He says he had “zero clue” why his name appeared on the search warrant.

At a Racing Board hearing on Tuesday,  Heidner said he disclosed his business relationships to the Gaming Board when he was first granted a gambling license in the state in 2012.

“My video gaming license was approved after a 24-month intensive investigation,” he testified Tuesday.

“All my business relationships were disclosed to investigators, and the relationships in question were explicitly discussed with multiple (Illinois Gaming Board) agents and investigators,” he continued.

“As these business relationships were ongoing, they had been disclosed and further discussed at each annual review of my licenses over the last seven years.

“I have no affiliation with the Mafia at all,” he added.