Gold Rush Gaming Named in Illinois State Senator Martin Sandoval Federal Corruption Probe

Posted on: October 14, 2019, 07:39h. 

Last updated on: October 14, 2019, 11:29h.

When federal agents raided the home and offices of Illinois State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-12th) last month, among their targets were documents related to local gaming operator Gold Rush Gaming, according to a search and seizure warrant published Friday.

Martin Sandoval
Illinois State Senator Martin Sandoval has found himself at the center of a sprawling federal corruption probe involving the state’s gambling industry. (Image: Seth Perlman/AP)

Also on their radar were powerful players in Illinois’ construction, transportation, and energy sectors, as well as influential lobbyists and at least three suburban mayors, according to the unredacted 12-page document.

While no one has yet been charged with a crime, the sheer breadth of the investigation has sent shockwaves around the state capitol, where it’s feared something really big is about to break.

$45 Billion Capital Plan

As chairman of the powerful Senate Transportation Committee — a role from which he resigned Friday — Sandoval was instrumental in planning and implementing Governor J.B. Pritzker’s ambitious capital plan that earmarked $45 billion for investment in infrastructure and state facilities over six years.

Dubbed “Rebuild Illinois,” the plan also expanded gambling on an unprecedented level in the state, paving the way for a major casino in Chicago, as well as five smaller regional casinos in the southern suburbs. It has also increased the number of video gambling machines, as well as the maximum bet on the machines.

Gold Rush Gaming bills itself as Illinois’ “premier terminal operator,” and has placed thousands of video-gaming terminals (VGTs) in bars, restaurants and slots parlors across the state.

Gold Rush Gaming owner Rick Heidner is also involved in a venture called Playing in the Park LLC, which has applied to build a harness racing track and casino at Tinley Park in Chicago’s southern suburbs as part of the recent gaming expansion.

The project received a racing license on September 24 from the Illinois Racing Board, which was coincidentally the day of the Sandoval raids. Heidner, a minor contributor to Governor Pritzker’s campaign, has yet to apply to the Gaming Board for a casino license.

Shadowy Ties

Heidner told The Sun-Times Friday that no one from the FBI had spoken to him and he had “zero clue” why his name would be on the search warrant.

“Maybe it’s because, you know, I donate money politically and charitably,” he said. “But I have no clue why my name would be on it at all.”

But the same day, The Chicago Tribune revealed that Heidner has extensive business ties to Rocco Suspenzi, chairman of the board at Parkway Bank and Trust.

In 2003, Suspenzi was accused of concealing his ownership interest in Emerald Casino Inc, which had applied to build a casino in Des Plaines, along with several other partners who had links to organized crime.

The Gaming Board also concluded the Parkway Bank had approved a seven-figure loan to one mobbed-up partner to finance his secret stake in the casino.

The Emerald’s license was ultimately revoked, and the project was acquired by Rush Street Gaming. It became the Rivers Casino, Illinois’ biggest and most profitable gaming facility, which was acquired this year by Churchill Downs Inc.

Also mentioned in the search warrant is Joe Elias, who operates VGT parlors in the state, all of which carry Heidner’s machines.

Elias was unavailable for comment when contacted by The Sun-Times.