Casino lawsuit tied to Blago corruption trial can proceed

A lawsuit that alleges racetrack owners offered to bribe disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to sign legislation that hurt riverboat casinos has been given the green light to go ahead by a federal appeals court.

Previously thrown out by a lower court, the lawsuit filed by four casinos centers around tapes played at Blagojevich’s trial, alleging horseracing executive John Johnston offered Blagojevich campaign donations in 2006 and 2008 to pass legislation that forced them to set aside 3 percent of their revenue for horse racing.

But the 7th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday overruled U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly, saying the casinos must be allowed to pursue their claims about the alleged 2008 bribe offer.

First passed in 2006, the legislation aimed to help the horseracing industry, which had been in decline since Illinois legalized riverboat gambling in 1990.

The Empress Casino Joliet, Des Plaines Development Limited Partnership, Hollywood Casino‐Aurora, Inc. and the Elgin Riverboat Resort sued Johnston, Balmoral Park and Maywood Park Trotting Association, alleging that when a bill renewing the measure was passed in 2008, Blagojevich delayed signing it into law while his chief of staff Alonzo Monk tried to shake down Johnston into delivering on a $100,000 campaign contribution.

Monk, who pleaded guilty to soliciting a bribe from Johnston, was recorded telling the governor: “Look, I want to go to (Johnston) without crossing the line and say, give us the (expletive) money… give us the money and one has nothing to do with the other.”

But Monk then met with Johnston to deliver a message, he later said, that “once [Johnston] made the contribution, the act would be signed.” Johnston never made the contribution.

The 7th Circuit ruled Friday that “If the Casinos are correct, the Racetracks agreed to pay Governor Blagojevich $100,000 in exchange for his signature on the ’08 Act.”

It added, “the direct and immediate consequence of that illegal agreement was to deprive the Casinos of 3 percent of their annual revenue.”

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