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After prodding by Bluhm, Emanuel pushed against racinos

Tuesday, Jan 10, 2017

* From the BGA

In the months leading up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2015 re-election, members of the family that controls Illinois’ most successful casino gave $300,000 to his campaign. Just five days into Emanuel’s second term, Rivers Casino chairman Neil Bluhm called in a request.

Among emails obtained recently from Emanuel’s personal account by the Better Government Association is one sent to the mayor written by his deputy Steve Koch on May 23, 2015, relating a phone conversation with Bluhm.

“Spoke to Neil Bluhm,” Koch wrote. “he (sic) was calling to make sure we are as opposed to table games at racetracks as he is. I assured he (sic) we are adamantly opposed.” […]

That communication took place one day after a report in The Daily Herald about a push in Springfield to expand casino style gambling to racetracks like Arlington Park. Such a move, had it succeeded, would have posed a competitive threat to nearby Rivers in Des Plaines. […]

Bluhm’s call to the deputy mayor prompted this email response from then chief City Hall lobbyist Michael Rendina: “We will need to call [state senate president John] Cullerton and ask that he keep them (table games at tracks) out of the bill.”

Emanuel spokesman Matt McGrath dismissed the importance of the Bluhm interaction, noting that city and Rivers had a common cause in opposing the threat of turning racetracks into casinos.

“We had the same position on table gaming because he was worried they would eat into the profits of his casino and we were worried they would eat into the profits of a possible Chicago casino,” said McGrath. “We didn’t need a reminder from Mr. Bluhm that this was something to be opposed.”

Spokesman Dennis Culloton said that Bluhm, a registered lobbyist for Rivers, alerted the city that the racetrack measure was afoot “to make sure the city reviewed the negative impact that table games at the tracks would have on gaming revenues to the city. As two major stakeholders in this potential legislation, this conversation was entirely appropriate and in the interest of the city.”

Your thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - oldman - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 11:47 am:

    The tracks don’t need table games, but they do need slots. This has been done in other states, revitalizing the racing industry, increasing purses and attracting better racing. Should have been done years ago. You can play slots in many of the otb sites. Confession: I am an occasional $2 bettor

  2. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 11:53 am:

    Wait, you’re telling me wealthy interests attempt to use government to block competition and lock in their advantages using a direct line to politicians?

  3. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 12:00 pm:

    –“We had the same position on table gaming because he was worried they would eat into the profits of his casino and we were worried they would eat into the profits of a possible Chicago casino,” said McGrath. –

    Uh huh. The magical, mystical Chicago casino. I’m sure Bluhm is all for that competition.

    –“We didn’t need a reminder from Mr. Bluhm that this was something to be opposed.” –

    After a $300K contribution, I would hope not.

    And did they discuss how the continuing absence of slots at Chicago taverns bumps up Bluhm’s profits, while depriving neighborhood businesses and the city of a new revenue stream?

    I wonder if Emanuel’s crew would jump to take the calls of Chicago tavern owners who have that question?

  4. - Tron - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 12:05 pm:

    LOL, Rahm’s opposition to slots and table games at the tracks may be just the boost the tracks need to make it happen.

  5. - Robert the Bruce - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 12:11 pm:

    Seems like a reasonable explanation. But I don’t trust that Rahm would have shared with BGA the emails that would be more embarrassing to him.

  6. - northsider (the original) - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 12:13 pm:

    When government and gambling interests combine, whether racing or casinos, NOBODY has clean hands.

    I’d give the historical edge on impropriety to the tracks since two governors were convicted because of their cozy relationships with racetrack owners.

  7. - Horses Mouth - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 12:16 pm:

    From those of us on the side of putting racinos at the tracks this is no surprise. It just connected the dots we knew existed. The worst part was when you knew both Chicago and Bluhms people were not telling the truth when they would tell you they were not the problem. Much like when Rauner says his is not involved

  8. - Stringer Bell - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 12:21 pm:

    If we’re expanding gambling, let’s add online poker to the mix. Could be more tax revenue for the state.

  9. - Montrose - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 12:41 pm:

    This sounds like a pretty standard conversation lobbyists have with decision makers. It makes sense that Chicago would not want games at casinos. Yeah, Bluhm got easy access to Koch because of his money. Ok. I just don’t see much here here.

    I’m no Rahm booster. I am guessing they will come across something that shows the city took a position solely because it benefited a big donor. This example just isn’t it.

  10. - walker - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 1:00 pm:

    Nothing unexpected here.

    The mistake would be to assume that Bluhm and his multiple lobbyists would not attack a Chicago casino big time. These are no way natural allies.

  11. - Oh, Please! - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 1:02 pm:

    BGA has limited credibility on influence buying from donors.

    Surprised that two years have passed without one serious “investigation” into any Rauner activity?

    Me neither.

  12. - City Zen - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 1:13 pm:

    =Surprised that two years have passed without one serious “investigation” into any Rauner activity?==

  13. - Square Circle - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 1:21 pm:

    Hmmm. I remember when Rahm’s erstwhile friend, Rod Blagojevich, tried to get cozy with a race track owner, and, after some horse trading, the former governor was ready to sign some horse racing friendly legislation after soliciting a large contribution from the race track owner. US Attorney Peter Fitzgerald cried foul.

    If it was wrong for Blagojevich to do this, why is okay for Emanuel? Oh, okay. It was really about the US Senate seat. Who was one of those calling Blagojevich about the vacancy? Oh, that would be Rahm.

  14. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 1:32 pm:

    –Who was one of those calling Blagojevich about the vacancy? Oh, that would be Rahm.–

    The White House Chief of Staff-designate was dancing way too close to the flame on that one. Taped conversations can be so easily misinterpreted by the FBI.

    Emanuel’s goofiness got Obama deposed by the FBI even before he took office. That’s dangerous for anyone.

  15. - Tron - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 2:21 pm:

    Not having slots and table games at the tracks is goofy. It’s like telling a casino they can have roulette but not blackjack. Why force them to limit their product offerings to their customers? In a bunch of other states, they already have expanded gaming at the tracks. You can play poker or slots or whatever while waiting for the next race to off.

  16. - Blinkers Off - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 2:54 pm:


    Complete agreement with your sentiments. Illinois now has a grand total of three race tracks in operation (not including special racing events held in conjunction with the Illinois State Fair) on radically condensed schedules.

    Arlington Park, Hawthorne and Fairmont are running on empty and the General Assembly has been ignoring reality for years. Race tracks in other states have slot machines and these profits are used to sweeten the horse racing purses. This is why so few named horses and trainers visit Illinois any longer.

    The stables will be emptied and the horse trailers will drive away unless the legislature acts. Illinois is only about twenty years behind other states in this regard.

  17. - Signal and Noise - Tuesday, Jan 10, 17 @ 4:25 pm:

    Sheesh. Seems like every time this cash-starved state has a way to make some money through expanded gaming, Blume is there to block it with a pile of cash. I get the guy wants to protect his interests, but at what point does the broader interest win out?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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