Harrah’s v. Blogojevich

Harrah’s and three other casino corporations are suing former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

The $267 million lawsuit was filed by Des Plaines Development Limited Partnership dba Harrah’s Casino Cruises Joliet, Hollywood Casino-Aurora Inc., Empress Casino Joliet Corp., and Elgin Riverboat Resort-Riverboat Casino.

The action is part of the casinos’ ongoing effort to fight an Illinois state law requiring casinos to pay fees to economically troubled racetracks, an arrangement that so far has generated $90 million. The money has not yet gone to the racetracks, pending the outcome of legal battles. On June 8, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal from the casinos over the issue. The Illinois Supreme Court had already upheld the law.

The lawsuit accuses Blagojevich of signing the law in exchange for a campaign contribution from a track owner named John Johnston.

“[O]n or about June 27, 2006, just a month after Blagojevich signed the 2006 Racing Act into law, Johnston fulfilled his end of his agreement with Blagojevich by causing several entities under his control (the ‘Johnston Affiliates’) to contribute a total of $125,000 to Friends for Blagojevich,” the lawsuit charged. “Specifically, Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. contributed $10,000; Maywood Park Trotting Association contributed $10,000; Racing Association of Illinois contributed $20,000; Coast to Coast Food Services, Ltd. contributed $25,000; Egyptian Trotting Association contributed $20,000; and Associates Racing Association Inc. contributed $40,000.”

The racetrack dispute was part of the case against Blagojevich in both his federal arrest and his impeachment.

The casino lawsuits were filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a federal law enacted in 1970 as a tool in the drug war but subsequently used for everything from prosecuting anti-abortion protestors to contesting disputes between factions of a church.