Top Illinois Republican Won't Disclose Video Gambling Profits | WGLT

Top Illinois Republican Won't Disclose Video Gambling Profits

Jun 20, 2019
Originally published on June 19, 2019 9:00 am

One of Illinois' top Republicans declined on Tuesday to say how much money he has made off his business relationship with a video gambling company that's licensed by the state.

Illinois Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington said his ties to Midwest Electronic Gaming — one of the biggest operators in the state-regulated video gambling business — had led him to abstain from voting when other senators approved a massive gambling expansion on June 2 in Springfield.

But after a luncheon speech at the City Club of Chicago on Tuesday, the former GOP nominee for governor balked when asked if he would reveal just how much he has profited from his involvement in the booming gambling trade in Illinois.

"No, no," Brady replied after his speech near downtown Chicago. "Just as I will not tell you how much money I've made from real estate commissions and other businesses I've invested in."

Brady abstained from voting on the landmark gambling bill just days after ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ revealed his connections to Midwest, which operates primarily in central Illinois.

The ProPublica/WBEZ investigation found Brady is listed in internal Illinois Gaming Board records as a "person with significant interest or control" or PSIC, for Midwest. As a PSIC, Brady receives a percentage of the company's proceeds under a revenue-sharing agreement.

Midwest made $16 million from video gambling machines last year and a total of $80 million between 2012 and 2018.

And online state records list Brady as a sales agent for Midwest. Sales agents are not required to obtain licenses from the gaming board or disclose how much they are paid.

Also appearing in the records obtained by ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ was Brady Ventures, the company the senator owns with his wife, Nancy, who is listed as a PSIC. State records show Brady Ventures was formed in October 2011, a year before video gambling went live in Illinois.

The 816-page gambling bill that was approved by lawmakers earlier this month includes multiple changes to the rules governing video gambling.

On Tuesday, Brady said he abstained from voting on the legislation — even though he believes he could have voted.

"My ethics officer said you should recuse yourself [on] this," Brady said. "Didn't have to but recommended it."

Brady declined to say when he made the decision to abstain. Last month, Brady had declined to answer questions about his involvement in video gambling, instead issuing a statement saying he would "either abstain from voting or vote in the public interest."

Asked if it was appropriate for a legislator to be involved in an industry the state regulates, the senator replied, "I don't think it's wrong or I wouldn't do it."

Brady also said Tuesday he has no "ownership interest" in Midwest.

Brady lists Brady Ventures — but not Midwest — on his legislative statements of economic interests filed under the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act. That's because payments to him from the video gambling company go through Brady Ventures and are not made to him directly.

Brady sees no reason to tighten this loophole in the state's ethics rules.

"I am not aware of any changes that need to be made at this point in time," he said.

Brady, 58, has been a senator since 2002. He's also a real estate broker who lost the 2010 general election to then-Gov. Pat Quinn.

Brady voted against the Video Gaming Act when it came before the Senate in 2009. But he began working with Midwest as a sales agent in July 2016 and was designated a PSIC in March 2018, state records show.

"I am a business person," he said Tuesday. "I've been in various businesses, from my real estate companies to home-building business, other businesses, like all other members of the General Assembly. This just is another business interest I have, that deals in the area of video poker entertainment facilities across the state."

Midwest operates 174 terminals at 39 locations in the Bloomington-Normal area, accounting for about half of the video gambling business in the two central Illinois cities, according to NPR member station WGLT.

The newly approved gambling bill would increase taxes on the video gambling industry, but allows for more machines at each location that hosts the devices, and it also raises the maximum bet. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker has indicated that he will sign the bill into law.

There are more than 7,000 locations that have video gambling machines in about 1,000 Illinois towns. Bettors have lost roughly $5.8 billion, but $4 billion of that money has gone to the terminal operators and to the businesses that have the machines.

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter for WBEZ. Follow him at @dmihalopoulos.

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