State gambling regulators on Thursday demanded that video gambling operator Rick Heidner fire his director of operations, saying the man admitted to Illinois Gaming Board investigators that he associates with people who “pose a threat to the integrity of video gaming” in Illinois.
The move by the Gaming Board came two days after regulators filed a disciplinary action seeking to revoke Heidner’s video gaming license because investigators allege he offered a $5 million “illegal inducement” to a chain of betting parlors after its new owner said he was going to remove Heidner’s Gold Rush Amusements machine from 44 locations and give the space to a competitor.
But on Thursday, Heidner was fighting a new battle, one that a spokesman said had blindsided the Barrington-area businessman. During a public meeting, Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter called on Gold Rush to “disassociate” from Director of Operations Ronald Bolger, as well as sales agent Daniel J. Gerardi, for the same reason.
“In an interview with IGB agents during an unrelated investigation, Mr. Bolger admitted that he had social and business associations that pose a threat to the integrity of video gaming and discredit or tend to discredit the gaming industry of the state of Illinois,” Fruchter told Gaming Board members. “Staff therefore recommends ordering Gold Rush to disassociate from Mr. Bolger.”
Fruchter made a similar statement about Gerardi. The Gaming Board then voted unanimously to demand Gold Rush fire both men. The company has 21 days to respond to the charges. Both men may keep their jobs until the administrative hearing process plays out, gaming officials said.
After the meeting, Fruchter declined to elaborate on the underlying probe that led to the order against Bolger.
Heidner’s spokesman said he did not have enough information to comment on the alleged inappropriate associations.
“We did not know this was coming,” spokesman Randall Samborn said. "Today’s action was taken with no notice and Gold Rush is making an inquiry into the basis as the company has not yet received any explanation for the action.”
Samborn said Bolger “is well-respected in this industry after a 40-year career and he has been with Gold Rush since its formation.” Gerardi could not be reached.
Heidner has been defending himself from revelations about his own business ties since October. The Tribune reported that Heidner has long-standing business relationships with a banker accused by the FBI of secretly bringing organized crime associates into a Rosemont casino project, as well as similar ties to a convicted bookie.
Heidner attended Thursday’s meeting surrounded by Samborn; a second media consultant, Anne Kavanaugh; one of his attorneys, Patrick Collins; a Gold Rush official; and at least two family members.
One of the state’s largest video gambling operators, Heidner has been making public appearances and building a team of consultants and lawyers to defend himself on a rapidly widening field of inquiries from authorities.
Following the Tribune story about Heidner’s business ties, Gov. J.B. Pritzker stopped a horse racing track and casino Heidner was planning for state-owned land in Tinley Park. That day, Heidner tearfully told the Illinois Racing Board, “I have no affiliation with the mafia at all.”
In addition to Thursday’s action, Heidner already was battling allegations lodged by the Gaming Board in a complaint Tuesday that seeks to revoke his video gambling operator license.
Regulators allege that Heidner offered a $5 million “illegal inducement” to keep his machines in 44 Laredo Hospitality Ventures gambling cafes after that company’s new owner said he was switching his business to one of Heidner’s competitors. In their disciplinary action complaint, gaming officials included a text message they said Heidner sent to Laredo’s previous owner, laying out his plan:
“First thing I asked was if (Fischer) would sell and I could get a group together quickly and would get him $5,000,000.00 more than he paid please make $5 (million), in a week,” Heidner texted to Laredo’s previous owner on Dec. 1, 2018, according to the complaint. “I told him none of my friends wanted to see this happen to me. He obviously said no ... I told him I would help him so much I would help him expand so much.”
Asked Thursday about the identity of the “friends” to whom Heidner was referring, Samborn said no such group had been assembled.
Heidner was telling Laredo, “There are people I could bring to you for an arms-length transaction,” Samborn said. Samborn denied that Heidner intended use his own money in the $5 million offer.
State law prohibits businesses from owning both the gambling machine supplier and the establishments where the machines are placed.
Samborn has called the allegations against Heidner “an orchestrated smear campaign,” describing Heidner as the victim of an “illegal inducement” paid by one of his competitors to replace Gold Rush at Laredo’s locations. He said they are related to an ongoing lawsuit.
Samborn and Collins said they believe the Gaming Board has unfairly targeted Heidner. Gaming Board officials have refused to comment on how Heidner was approved for a video gaming license in 2012.
The Tribune revealed in October that since at least 2003, Heidner has partnered in numerous real estate ventures with Parkway Bank Chairman Rocco Suspenzi to own convenience store and gas station locations in the Chicago area and four other states. Suspenzi invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination during a 2005 Gaming Board hearing when investigators sought to question him about FBI accusations that he concealed the ownership stakes of two reputed organized crime figures in the ill-fated Emerald Casino project in Rosemont.
The Tribune also revealed a business partnership between Heidner and Dominic Buttitta, a convicted bookie. Together they own a building in Elgin that houses a bar and grill that’s also a location for Gold Rush gambling machines. Buttitta pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy and tax evasion charges related to his operation of Blackjacks Gentlemen’s Club in South Elgin.
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