By: Mark Glennon*
It’s not the biggest scandal going in Illinois, but there are particularly good reasons to keep the story alive. It was reported two months ago by Pro Publica and WBEZ under the headline, Illinois Video Gambling Tax Hike Will Be Decided by Lawmakers With Financial Ties to the Industry.
It’s actually about a way of life in Springfield. It’s about corruption that probably isn’t illegal, and it illustrates exactly the kind of reform that’s essential if Illinoisans are to be convinced to stay here.
Most importantly, its bipartisan and it’s about how far we are from seeing that kind of reform, because dead silence is all we’ve heard from leadership in both parties.
It’s about legislators having financial interests in an industry they vote on – in this case, the video gaming industry, upon which Illinois has staked a material portion of its revenue expectations.
Subject No. 1 is Illinois Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady (R-Bloomington). The Pro Publica/WBEZ report lists several filings showing that Brady has a direct financial interest in video gaming in Illinois. Brady is listed in internal gaming board records as a ‘person with significant influence or control,’ for Midwest Electronics Gaming, one of the state’s largest video gambling companies,” according to the report. Other filings cited in the report indicate Brady’s financial stake in the industry is substantial.
The second major lawmaker discussed in the Pro Publica/WBEZ report is Senate Assistant Majority Leader Antonio Muñoz (D-Chicago). The son of Muñoz, according to the report, is “tied to Tap Room Gaming, which is co-owned by former Democratic State Sen. Michael Bond. Bond, who voted for the Video Gaming Act, founded Tap Room Gaming months after leaving office.” The Tap Room Gaming made nearly $62 million between 2012 and 2018 from its video slot and poker machines, says the report.
Brady and Muñoz have held seats on the committee that approves regulations governing the video gambling industry.
It goes beyond the General Assembly, according to the report, which discussed other officeholders. Cook County commissioners, for example, “voted to approve video gambling in unincorporated parts of the county. The hearing was presided over by Deborah Sims, a Democrat from Posen who has been a sales agent for Gold Rush Gaming since May 2017, according to gaming board records.”
In calling for Brady’s resignation, Edgar County Watchdog Kirk Allen got to the heart of the matter. “I don’t believe a person wanting reform as he says he does would be involved,” he said. “I have no tolerance for self-dealing at all.”
Amen. That’s what this is about – who is a reformer? Not those with a racket – some way to make a buck out of their office, often in ways we will never know about.
Nearly all of the rest don’t have the guts to call out that distinction, as we’ve seen from both parties on this scandal. What has GOP leadership said about it? I know, I know — a better question is “what GOP?” Still, insofar as anybody is in charge, the answer is that they’ve said nothing.
And Democrats? Let’s not dignify that with an answer.
I’ve seen Pro Publica write that it doesn’t let the scandals it investigates just go away, and I think it’s true. They stick with it to try to get some action. Let’s hope they do so with this story. Legal corruption like this is a major part of Illinois’ collapse. The worst of the legally corrupt may be the most conspicuous, like House Speaker Michael Madigan with his property tax appeal business, but others, like this, turn up only with an investigation.
Maybe a few heads will roll — if we’re lucky.
More likely, we’ll learn just how far away both parties in Illinois are from embracing real reformers.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.