Illinois' real-life Sopranos
With all the breathless coverage of the Illinois Gaming Board's decision to put a riverboat in Rosemont, a big story has been completely ignored.
Why did the board's staff twist so many facts, ignore so many problems and neglect to look into serious mob ties in order to put a casino next door to Rosemont, in Des Plaines?
You don't have to look much further for proof that staff favored Des Plaines than its selection of the casino bidding finalists. The staff whittled down seven applicants to two, choosing Des Plaines and Country Club Hills, a south suburban community whose casino partner offered a bid that was about $100 million less than Waukegan's and Rosemont's - the two communities that the Board chose, along with Des Plaines.
If the Gaming Board members had gone along with the staff's two selections, Des Plaines would have been the hands-down winner. The bidding almost definitely would not have escalated as high as it did during the hotly contested three-way auction that developed between Des Plaines and the heavy hitters behind Waukegan and Rosemont. In other words, if left up to staff, Illinois coffers would have received a lot less money for the license.
Staff then claimed in an almost laughable analysis that gamblers at a Rosemont site would bet significantly less than gamblers at a Des Plaines site, even though the Rosemont boat would attract a million more visitors a year than Des Plaines, and the Rosemont locale is closer to the hotels, the convention centers, O'Hare Airport and the expressway exit. That bizarre assessment is the basis for staff's claim that a Des Plaines site would generate more revenue than the Rosemont site.
Staff also cherry-picked one questionable aspect from the Waukegan proposal and used it to bludgeon Harrah's Waukegan bid. According to staff, Harrah's was planning to focus its advertising too heavily on nearby, low-income residents. But most other analysts figured the casino would naturally draw from all over the wealthy northern suburbs, Chicago and even Wisconsin. And there was little doubt in anyone's mind that, of the three finalists, the struggling Waukegan was the most economically deserving.
Staff even ignored Des Plaines' offer to kick back $94 million to its casino suitor, Midwest Gaming, over ten years. The highly unusual taxpayer subsidy was used by the company to boost its auction bid.
Why the intense staff interest in Des Plaines? The easy answer is the suburb offers almost all of the super-prime location advantages of Rosemont without the mob stuff. However, one of the staff's own analyses, which it has refused to release, claimed that the alleged bad boys in Rosemont would try to make a play to control some of the casino swag next door if Des Plaines got the boat. So even that argument falls flat.
But the staff now has some bigtime egg on its collective face. In its zeal to steer the boat to Des Plaines, the staff missed one very important thing - the business presence in Des Plaines of one of the most notoriously mobbed up public figures in recent Cook County history, Jim Dvorak.
Jim "The Bohemian" Dvorak served 7 years in a federal prison for corruption. Dvorak allegedly took massive amounts of payoffs from Ernest "Rocco" Infelise, a notorious crime boss who controlled Cicero with an iron fist. Dvorak was the Undersheriff of Cook County and the Cook County Republican Party Chairman at the time of his downfall.
Dvorak has recently put together two big hotel projects in Des Plaines, apparently helped by his friendship with the city's economic development director, William Schneider. Schneider was involved at one point with the negotiations to bring the riverboat to his town.
While he was undersheriff, between 1987 and 1989, Dvorak allegedly collected payments of as much as $10,000 a month from Rocco Infelise to lay off raids on his suburban gambling joints.
Dvorak hired over 300 people at the sheriff's office who weren't qualified for their jobs. He also hired 17 "ghost payrollers" who collected over a half million dollars in salary between 1987 and 1990. He took bribes of cars and jewelry.
A Board spokesman refused last week to say whether the staff had knowledge of Dvorak's close relationship with Des Plaines' economic development director. Dvorak's activities in Des Plaines were not a big secret to the locals, so staff should have known what was going on over there. Either way, we're owed an explanation.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at www.capitolfax.com.