Monday, October 5, 2009

SCOOP: Drive to ban video gaming in Cook County has ties to casino industry

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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.

Video gaming is the heart of Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to fund a $31 billion capital improvements program for the state. It would allow up to 45,000 video machines to be placed in establishments with liquor licenses. As much as $500,000 annually could be raised by financially-strapped suburban communities through licensing.

But while the machines might help suburban municipalities, it would compete for dwindling gaming revenues with the state’s existing casinos. Illinois has nine riverboat casinos and recently approved a 10th license for a casino to be built in Des Plaines. The 10th License was awarded in December to Midwest Gaming & Entertainment, LLC, whose chairman is Neil Bluhm.

Gainer has taken the lead to block video gaming in Cook County where 40 percent of revenues are expected to be raised. On July 21, 2009, Gainer co-sponsored a campaign with DuPage Commissioner Brien Sheahan (R-2nd) to block video gaming machines in the two counties claiming the placement of the machines would gouge public paychecks and encourage illegal activity.

Their financial records, however, show ties to casino interests that raise questions about who the legislation benefits most.

On June 30, 2009, Gainer’s election campaign received $1,000 from Leslie Bluhm. Bluhm is listed on Gainer’s disclosure forms as working with “Lamb Partners.” On the same day, Gainer also received $1,000 from Gregory Carlin, who is also listed as an executive with at Lamb Partners.

Leslie Bluhm is the daughter of Midwest Gaming Chairman Neil Bluhm, and she is also a “partner” in Midwest Gaming. Gregory Carlin is President of Midwest Gaming. Neil Bluhm has many corporate interests in Illinois including Lamb Partners. He is also president of JMB Realty Corporation.

Sheahan received campaign contributions from Res Publica, an influential public affairs and lobbying firm familiar to Gainer and that has longstanding ties to casino gaming in and around Illinois.

Gainer’s legislation was fast-tracked through the county board over the objections of several commissioners who asked that public hearings be held first. In fact, no "public hearings" were held on Gainer’s bill which sat dormant in the Finance Committee until Gainer asked Finance Committee Chairman John Daley to put the bill on an agenda for a vote. That vote was taken last Thursday, October 1, 2009 immediately after a few members of the public, last minute, were allowed to speak on the issue. It is scheduled to be voted on by the full board Tuesday (tomorrow, Oct. 6, 2009).


Ironically, in announcing her campaign to block video gaming in Cook and DuPage Counties July 31, Gainer strongly denounced Quinn’s legislation arguing the video gaming machine law was “passed in a late-night legislative session, with no public hearings or debate.”

Gainer never disguised her goal to force the state legislature to replace the video gaming component of Quinn’s capital improvement plan. She told the Chicago Tribune last week, “We have time to bring all these other cities and communities along to ban it and basically make Springfield look at this differently and find a better way.”

The Gainer ban could directly benefit the state’s casinos and force the Illinois Legislature to remove video gaming from Quinn’s bill during the Fall session.

In the week before the vote, Bluhm made telephone calls urging county board members to pass Gainer’s video gaming machine ban, according to at least one commissioner.

That Gainer surfaced as the point person spearheading the anti-video gaming legislation is surprising to many. Gainer was never elected to office and was appointed to her seat by Chicago Democratic Ward Committeemen in May to succeed Commissioner Michael Quigley who was elected to congress to succeed U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel.

Raising more questions is that Gainer’s 10th District is in Chicago. It does not include any unincorporated areas of suburban Cook County which would be most affected by her video gaming ban. She is a candidate for re-election in the Feb. 2, 2010 Democratic Primary.

For the past eight years, Gainer worked as a lobbyist for AON Corporation, the insurance giant that also has ties to the casino gaming industry.

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.”

Yet both Gainer and Sheahan have huge holes and unanswered questions about the record funds they each received and listed on their disclosure forms. Gainer returned $4,000, according to her disclosure forms, linked to a Cook County contractor, but kept thousands more from contributors also tied to the same contractor.

Most unusual was Sheahan who listed a $50,000 campaign contribution from Edward Heil on June 18, 2009. Sheahan doesn’t list Heil’s interests and instead writes “Good Faith Effort Made” to identify Heil’s “occupation” and “employer.”

Yet, details on Edward Heil are included on an earlier Sheahan campaign disclosure form as being the prominent Oak Brook land developer. "Edward F. Heil" is identified in public records as a resident of Fisher Island, Florida and Oak Brook. He’s the former owner of American Environmental Construction Company and remains active in the construction and land development industries.


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. Sheahan also did not return requests for comment.

But Gainer’s web page ( 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.

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.

Casino-related conflicts-of-interests are not unusual on the Cook County Board. But two commissioners, Larry Suffredin (D-13th) and Timothy Schneider (R-15th), who do have such ties, have both reportedly refrained from voting on casino-related legislation.

Schneider owns Rolling Knolls C.C., Golf Club of Illinois which could possibly benefit from the legislation by offering the video gaming machines. Suffredin is a partner in the law firm of Shefsky & Froelich which does casino related business. He is listed as handling gaming related interests.

Asked about the growing controversy, several county commissioners speculated Sunday that Daley should delay the vote on Gainer’s legislation and permit a real public hearing to sort through the controversy.


Several suburban commissioners whose districts represent unincorporated areas of the county most affected by the legislation have been put on the spot by the ban.

Suburban communities stand to gain much from the video game machine licensing to off-set their own revenue shortfalls. But an effort to delay the vote was scuttled by Gainer’s full-court press.

Comr. Daley said he was surprised the bill moved so quickly. He said he expected a compromise introduced by Commissioner Gregg Goslin giving Townships authority over video game machine placement to have been approved. “There were not enough votes,” Daley said.

Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri (D-9th) said he supported a delay explaining, “I thought more input was needed from those 53 businesses and the local townships across suburban townships.  Although the ban in unincorporated areas will not hurt funding the capital bill, I thought it would be useful to solicit more business input. Unfortunately, there were insufficient votes to delay the deferral. I did not think waiting a couple of weeks would have caused a problem, especially since the state is far from implementation of the program.”

Goslin also said, "I supported the video ban but felt that it was flawed because it did not fully embrace the local government op-out provision that was part of the original state legislation." 

Suburban Commissioner Joan Patricia Murphy (D-6th) did not attend last week’s committee hearing. Fellow suburban commissioner Deborah Sims (D-5th) attended the hearing only long enough to give the hearing a quorum to make the meeting legal. Daley said Sims left immediately after the quorum vote was taken for another meeting.

The vote to delay, led by Comr. Elizabeth “Liz” Doody Gorman, was defeated 7 to 5.

Had suburban commissioners Sims and Murphy attended the Finance Committee hearing, Daley conceded, the motion to delay the ban would have been passed. Both Sims and Murphy also declined requests for comment.

-- Ray Hanania
(I'll post updates if some of those I reached out to finally do respond.)

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