Barrington Hills businessman's bid for racino thwarted

  • Rick Heidner, of Barrington Hills, center, and his lobbyist Julie Curry speak to Illinois Racing Board Chairman Jeffrey Brincat on Tuesday after Heidner's bid to open a proposed Southwest suburban racino fell through.

      Rick Heidner, of Barrington Hills, center, and his lobbyist Julie Curry speak to Illinois Racing Board Chairman Jeffrey Brincat on Tuesday after Heidner's bid to open a proposed Southwest suburban racino fell through. Christopher Placek | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/15/2019 6:36 PM

A Barrington Hills gambling magnate's bid to open a combined horse racing track and casino in the Southwest suburbs was thwarted Tuesday after Gov. J.B. Pritzker halted a plan to sell state land for the development.

The move comes after the name of Gold Rush Gaming owner Rick Heidner surfaced in an FBI search warrant related to the corruption probe of Democratic state Sen. Martin Sandoval. And it follows a published report that detailed Heidner's business ties to a banking family whose financial involvement with organized crime led to the collapse of the proposed Rosemont casino project some two decades ago.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The two-sentence rejection letter from the Pritzker administration to Tinley Park's village attorneys was read aloud at a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Illinois Racing Board, after which the regulatory panel stripped the so-called racino venture of its initial 12 racing dates proposed for December 2020.

Heidner, whose Gold Rush Gaming is the third-largest video gambling terminal operator in the state, twice broke into tears while reading a prepared statement during the board's noontime meeting at Trackside OTB on North Avenue in Villa Park. He defended his companies and business dealings, saying the Illinois Gaming Board conducted a 24-month investigation, in which all his business relationships were disclosed and discussed, before he received a video gambling license seven years ago.

He said he's been assured by the U.S. attorney's office that he's not a target of any investigations.

"I am a good man. I'm a good husband, I'm a good father, I'm a good friend and I'm a good citizen," Heidner told the racing board. "I've never claimed to be perfect, and any man that tells you they are, you should run."

He added later, "I have no affiliation with the mafia at all."

The original racino plan called for the state to sell the former 280-acre Tinley Park Mental Health Center campus to the village, which would have then sold the land to a partnership led by Heidner and the owners of Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney.

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The $74.8 million project called for a one-mile oval track, 4,000-seat grandstand with sports bar and betting area, and four stables at Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street. Future proposed development included a hotel, restaurant and nightclub.

The partnership, called Playing in the Park LLC, had already received early approval from the racing board to conduct live harness racing in December 2020, though the group still would've needed approval from the gaming board for up to 1,200 slots and table game positions.

While the racing board Tuesday removed the Tinley Park racetrack's proposed race dates, the panel granted final ratification to dates approved last month for the state's existing tracks, which includes 68 dates for Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights.

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