Illinois Sports Bodies Riddled With Corruption Since Way Back When

Pat Quinn Illinois US Cellular Field

Sleazy sports deals, extortions and lawsuits mars Illinois’ reputation in the sports arena.

Remember that famous Black Sox Scandal ? It happened during the 1919 World Series. The Chicago White Sox lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds. White Sox players were later accused of match fixing. Even though 8 players were acquitted in court, they were all banned for life from baseball.

Who would have thought that almost 100 years later they would make gambling news again? In June 1988, a new corruption scandal hit the White Sox again. This involved the delivery of the nation’s first major sports subsidy bill. The then Governor of Illinois, James Thompson, passed a $120 million subsidy for the White Sox.

White Sox Bill Scandal

The White Sox apparently threatened to move to Florida if they didn’t get a subsidy. When the Sox subsidy vote was brought before the House, most of the lawmakers were against the vote. However each lawmaker who was about to vote ‘no’ was practically coerced into voting ‘yes’.

Even though the last lawmaker to vote, voted after midnight, the presiding officer, Majority Leader Jim McPike, said that according to his watch, and his watch alone, the last vote came in before midnight and so the bill was passed.

• 2 Illinois Governors involved in scandal
• Black Sox scandal
• $78 million dollar horse track lawsuit

Following the implementation of said bill, White Sox didn’t pay rent for over twenty years. As the club didn’t own the facility, no property taxes were due. Since then such shady deals are common practice all over the US.

The United Center, clubhouse to the Bulls and to the Blackhawks, was privately funded and the building got a special property tax exemption. Again in 2003, the Chicago Bears’ Soldier Field renovation cost over $387 million in ISFA bonds. The money was paid back with interest from Chicago hotel and motel taxes.

Campaign Aide Scandal

Next came along Pat Quinn who had his long-time campaign aide, Lou Bertuca, draw a $160,000-year taxpayer-funded salary when he became head of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA). The
ISFA is also the owner of U.S. Cellular Field, where (guess who?) the White Sox play! The authority
also boosted the Soldier Field renovation, where the Chicago Bears play too. There is certainly some opposition from some politicians on this matter.

This was the case way back then in 1988. Why would Quinn ‘appoint someone new to be executive director of the authority when only weeks remain in the lame-duck governor’s term’? It’s on everyone’s lips. ‘Why on Earth are we giving tax dollars to subsidize the wealthy individuals who own professional sports teams’?

And as the questions go unanswered and the illicitness goes unpunished, involving Illinois top government officials, so as Illinois’ tendency over the years to ignore corruption involving sports team owners and politicians. That is, until things came to ahead here in 2014.

Balmoral Racing Club and Maywood Park Trotting Association Scandal

There is that extortion scandal involving former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Now, two pari-mutuel standardbred tracks are prepared to file for bankruptcy when hit with a $78 million lawsuit judgment.

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, ordered Balmoral Racing Club and Maywood Park Trotting Association to pay a total of $77.8 million to four of the state’s riverboat casinos—Empress Casino in Joliet, Harrah’s Casino in Joliet, Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin and Hollywood Casino in Aurora.

And that’s not all. The court ordered Balmoral president and Maywood vice-president John Johnston
to pay the casinos $1 million each in damages. The ruling came after a federal racketeering suit in which Johnston agreed to Blagojevich’s request to pay part of the governor’s campaign fee.

This would cost Johnston about $100,000. But Johnston would only pay if Blagojevich pulled through the 2008 legislation in favor of Balmoral, Maywood and the state’s three thoroughbred tracks, Arlington International Racecourse, Hawthorne Race Course and Balmoral Park.

However, Johnston never gave the donation to the campaign. The bill that Blagojevich signed extended a 3 percent adjusted gross revenue impact fee that was assessed against the four casinos who were involved in land based and mobile betting, which were the most profitable in the state at the time.

In 1999, under US gambling laws, the casinos were allowed dockside gaming. The impact fee was levied in 2006 but this levy expired in 2008. McKenna testified. “The focus through the next series of months and probably throughout the year will be to see if a settlement can be reached with the plaintiffs and, if not, what will be the plan of reorganizations”.

The Johnston Family’s Attorney, William McKenna, told the Racing Board that his clients would appeal the case but for now they do have an automatic 14-day stay of judgment. At this time they may seek to settle with the four casinos.

However, should they not succeed to come to an agreed settlement, Balmoral Racing Club and Maywood Park Trotting Association, both owned by the Johnston’s family, will file for bankruptcy, perhaps by next week. This is the only way out if they do not want the property to be seized and operations disrupted in such a busy period of the year, McKenna disclosed.

Corruption issues spanning over a 100 years came to a head in the $78 million dollar lawsuit with the state and sport team owners involved.

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