SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) —Video gaming kingpin Rick Heidner, whose name was included in a federal search warrant during the FBI raid of former state Senator Martin Sandoval’s offices in September 2019, has filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Gaming Board seeking a total of four million dollars in damages to compensate for data theft, lost wages, emotional distress, and harm to his reputation after an employee at the agency leaked his private financial information to the federal government.
Our Capitol Bureau was first to report a staffer at the Gaming Board was suspended last month after he leaked sensitive information to three federal agencies. According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the employee emailed “highly confidential personal information” of “licensees and applicants” and “sensitive” files from internal Gaming Board investigations to the feds. According to the documents, the leak was “unsolicited,” suggesting a rogue employee took it upon himself to provide sensitive information to the feds.
Heidner’s attorneys filed their lawsuit on Tuesday in the Illinois Court of Claims seeking a maximum amount of two million dollars for himself and another two million for his company.
“The Illinois Gaming Board’s approach to protecting Mr. Heidner’s data has been careless and cavalier, at best,” the lawsuit reads.
The leaked information included Heidner’s financial information, personal bank records, social security number, real estate holdings, mortgages and liens, and other sensitive records, according to the lawsuit. Attorneys for Heidner argue the Gaming Board participated with the Chicago Tribune in an “orchestrated and public smear campaign” against Heidner.
In October, weeks after the FBI raided Sandoval’s offices seeking records pertaining to Heidner and his gaming company, the Tribune reported that the real estate and video gaming mogul had close business ties with the chairman of a bank who had done extensive business with people associated with organized crime. The same story reported Heidner was also in business with a bookie who pleaded guilty for running an illegal sports betting operation out of a strip club.
The fallout from the Tribune story was swift. Governor J.B. Pritzker’s administration nixed the sale of a land deal that Heidner had eyed for a potential horse racing track and casino in Tinley Park.
Heidner is also in jeopardy of losing his lucrative video gaming license after the Gaming Board said his $5 million offer to buy a company that uses his video game terminals amounted to an “illegal inducement.” Heidner has denied those accusations, and his aides said he fell victim to a competitor’s scheme to squeeze his video poker machines out of the 44 Laredo Hospitality locations scattered across northern Illinois.
Perhaps ironically, the Gaming Board only discovered the leak of Heidner’s personal information while it was in the process of responding to a FOIA request from Heidner himself. After the businessman grew suspicious that someone at the state gambling agency was unfairly targeting him at the behest of his competitors, he filed several FOIAs seeking “all communications between the IGB and the Tribune” to support his theory.
Heidner’s lawsuit accuses the Gaming Board of working “in conjunction with the initial Tribune reporting,” to “unfairly influence a negative press cycle” against him. The suit complains that the Gaming Board responded to a Tribune FOIA request too quickly when it handed over a disciplinary complaint against him within a “mere 33 minutes,” which is a remarkable turnaround time for a public records request.
The Illinois Gaming Board has not yet responded to a request seeking a comment on Heidner’s lawsuit.
By Mark Maxwell