Friday, October 9, 2009
Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer's pro-Casino ban on video gaming machines
By Ray Hanania
Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer (D-10th) received at least $2,000 in campaign contributions from Illinois casino gaming interests three weeks before she publicly unveiled her campaign to block video gaming machines in Cook and DuPage Counties, her financial records show.
She then rammed through the Cook County Board an ordinance that broadens the Cook County ban on video gaming machines to include all of the unincorporated areas of the suburbs, places her district up north in Chicago does not represent.
She says she did this because Gov. Pat Quinn pushed through a law to permit video gaming machines as a means of funding the state's $31 million capital improvement plan. She accused the governor of approving the ban in the dead of night and with no public debate. Gainer also denounced video gaming machines and said they would cause trouble for law enforcement and for our troubled society which is suffering through a terrible economy.
What a phony!
Here are some facts Gainer doesn't want you to focus on.
1 - Gainer's family comes from the 19th Ward and is close to the powers there who are behind the gubernatorial candidacy of of now state Comptroller Dan Hynes. This bill helps Hynes and hurts Quinn.
2 - Gainer comes from the city of Chicago and her district doesn't even represent the unincorporated areas of the county. She was anointed by the Chicago Machine Committeemen and doesn't represent the suburban communities and she wasn't even elected to any office.
3 - Gainer blasts Quinn for pushing through his law to legalize video gaming machines in Illinois, but the fact is Gainer did the same thing that she accuses Quinn of doing:“passed in a late-night legislative session, with no public hearings or debate.”
Suburban commissioners like Liz Gorman and Joan Patricia Murphy urged that the Gainer bill be deferred so that more discussion could take place. Gainer said no and pushed it through using mostly Chicago votes. Communities throughout the state and county are discussing this law and weighing the benefits of Quinn's capital improvement plan against the so-called scoured of "expanding gambling."
4 - Gainer says legalizing video gaming machines is bad for society, but says nothing about the fact that we now have 10 casinos in Illinois, we legalized the lottery and fraternal organizations and churches rely on Bingo for most of their free cash. Those are okay, but not an option that literally means no change for the state's gaming balance.
So the question is why? Why did Bridget Gainer, a 19th Ward political princess and former lobbyist for the past 8 years for the AON Insurance Corporation, decide to make legalizing video gaming machines a major issue?
FOLLOW THE MONEY
1 - AON, the Insurance giant headed by Patrick Ryan, has longstanding ties to the gaming industry.
2 - Gainer received at least $2,000 from the principles of the newest casino license, the first to be built in Cook County.
Gainer told the Chicago Tribune -- she won't answer questions put to her with a hard edge and refuses to talk to me -- that she didn't know the $2,000 came from gaming interests. She told a Chicago TV reporter that the money came from two women she met socially.
Fact, the money came in two donations to her election campaign committee on June 30, just three weeks before she decided to push the video gaming ban in Cook County. The contributors are far from socialites from the wine and cheese circuit. They are:
Leslie Bluhm, a partner in Midwest Gaming & Entertainment LLC, and the daughter of Neil Bluhm, the chairman of Midwest Gaming. Leslie Bluhm, I presume, gave Gainer $1,000.
The second $1,000 donation came the same day on June 30, quite a coincidence even for a wine and cheese diva, from Gregory Carlin, who happens to be the president of Midwest Gaming.
Gainer told the Chicago Tribune that she will return the $2,000. (Actually, returning conflicted donations is not unusual for Gainer. If you check her campaign finance report, you find she returned about $4,000 in donations from a major Cook County contractor, yet kept thousands more from interests directly tied to that same county contractor.)
Gainer’s campaign contribution lists also show she received many more donations from other companies and groups that have received thousands from Bluhm or Bluhm-related interests.
Why rush it through and reject a delay on the county vote? Why not give the people of Cook County, especially in the suburbs, time to weigh Gainer's ban more time?
GAINER COULDN'T WAIT
On the morning that Gainer's bill was rushed through the dead of night at the Cook County board over the objections of suburban county commissioners who were pleading for more time to consider the legislation, Neil Bluhm was before the Illinois Gaming Board agreeing to commit his $540 million to the new Cook County Casino that will soon be built in Cook County's suburbs.
Not so ironically, legalized video gaming machines DO rival casinos and especially would "harm" a casino in Cook County because that is where the largest concentration of video gaming devices would be placed. In Cook County, in the backyard of Midwest Gaming.
Only 10 days before the Finance Committee hearing, Gainer also surfaced at a high profile press conference with Cook County Clerk David Orr to announce a new Lobbying and Ethics “Sunshine Law”.
At the press conference, Gainer was quoted in the Arlington Heights Daily Herald vowing, "The time to know all this information is when you are awarding the contract and when the vote happens."
The newspaper added “Lobbying information would be included on agenda items. In effect, it would cast light on the sometimes-shady elements of awarding county contracts.”
Gainer did not respond to two requests for information regarding her ties to the casino gaming industry and to Chicago firms that have engaged in lobbying on behalf of the state’s riverboat casinos.
But Gainer’s web page (www.BridgetGainer.com) reflects an obsession with casino related issues. Her Twitter account is filled with dozens and dozens of postings on the video ban and the casino industry.
(Ray Hanania is a veteran Chicago political reporter and radio talk show host. Read his past columns on this issue at www.RadioChicagoland.com)