Mob Allegations Threaten Ill. Casino PlanERIC FIDLER , Associated Press
Apr. 13, 2004 9:05 PM ET
CHICAGO (AP) _ It sounds like a can't-miss deal _ a new casino within sight of one of the world's busiest airports.
But gambling regulators' decision to allow the casino in a suburban town whose mayor may _ or may not _ have ties to organized crime has set off an investigation and a storm of criticism, with critics on both sides setting a record for use of the term ``mobbed-up'' in a public debate.
At issue is a plan to build a casino in Rosemont, next to O'Hare Airport and its millions of travelers per year.
Developers and politicians are positively drooling over the prospect of billions in profits and tax revenue.
But now, the only people who seem happy about the mess are gambling opponents.
``I call it the briar patch,'' said the Rev. Tom Grey, an anti-gambling activist. ``Everyone who touches this gets stuck.''
The firestorm was touched off March 15 when the Illinois Gaming Board chose Mississippi-based Isle of Capri Casinos to build in Rosemont, arguing its bid of $518 million and the site's potential to tap into the convention and travel market, and the Chicago population were best for the state.
But the board acted over the recommendation of its own staff, which was worried about accusations that Rosemont Mayor Don Stephens, a longtime political powerbroker, had mob ties. The staff also had concerns about Isle of Capri's finances.
Company executives have insisted their finances are healthy and the mayor has denied he is a crook, but Illinois' attorney general suggested Rosemont may be unsuitable for a casino and has threatened to kill the deal.
Also, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has appointed a former deputy U.S. attorney general to investigate the deal.
``To simply trust the Gaming Board, I think, is asking the taxpayers and all of us, too much,'' said Blagojevich, who appointed only one of the five board members.
In explaining the board's vote, chairman Elzie Higginbottom said the decision was about tax revenue. He said that it is regulators' job to keep organized crime out.
``If we move forward with this facility, it will not be mobbed-up,'' he said. ``And if you put a facility anywhere and it is not appropriately and properly regulated, the mob will move in. They are mobile, ladies and gentlemen. They do not just sit in one spot.''
Despite the back-and-forth between the governor and the Gaming Board, the board on Tuesday hired the same investigator Blagojevich picked to review the board's decision on Rosemont. Higginbottom and Blagojevich both insisted there was no conflict of interest, saying the only way Eric Holder Jr. could review confidential Gaming Board documents was for him to be hired directly by the board as a special investigator rather than by another agency under the governor's control.
Madigan spokeswoman Melissa Merz said the attorney general was confident Holder would do his job ``thoroughly and professionally.'' He will be paid up to $300,000 from the Gaming Board's budget.
The project would be Illinois' 10th casino. Regulators estimated it could bring in as much as $2.6 billion in revenue in its first five years, producing $1.1 billion in taxes for the state.
Isle of Capri president Tim Hinkley said Rosemont is still the best location in the United States for a casino. He defended his company, which operates casinos in five states, and said it should not be tainted by questions about Rosemont's mayor.
``You don't get 17 licenses just by being good guys. You prove yourself every single time,'' Hinkley said.
In 2001, the Gaming Board rejected a previous attempt to open a casino in Rosemont. The board said the Emerald Casino project was turned down, in part, because some shareholders had ties to organized crime.
One of those shareholders was the Sherri Boscarino Trust. Nick Boscarino, Sherri's husband, was convicted in February in a scheme to defraud Rosemont.
Internal Gaming Board documents released to the media show that Stephens, Nick Boscarino and members of the family of the late Chicago mob boss William ``Willie Potatoes'' Daddano were all investors in a company that leases equipment at trade shows.
Stephens insisted he washed his hands of any association with Nick Boscarino once he found out about the criminal charges, which were unrelated to the equipment-leasing company.
``Rosemont has never been mobbed up, is not ever mobbed-up nor will it ever be mobbed-up,'' said Rosemont attorney Robert Stephenson.