Blagojevich Wins In Casino Lawsuit

 Empress Casino Joliet Corp. v. Blagojevich

In a lawsuit filed in Federal Court, four riverboat casinos claim they are victims of a  pay-to-play scheme engineered by former Governor Rod Blagojevich and John Johnston, the owner of two Illinois horse-racing tracks.  The casinos allege that Blagojevich “sold” and Johnston “bought” the enactment of two Illinois gaming laws requiring them to pay 3% of their adjusted gross revenue into a “Horse Racing Equity Trust Fund” as a condition of their gaming  licenses.  The proceeds of this fund do not go the State of Illinois or to any state program or  service. Instead the proceeds are paid directly to a  small group of  competing gambling enterprises: five Illinois horse-racing tracks, including the two owned by Johnston.

Since Blagojevich’s removal from office in January 2009 and while his criminal case has been pending, the casinos have continued to pay into the fund (more than $100 million and counting), but the money is frozen and held in escrow under the terms of a temporary restraining order put in place by the court.

The court, however, has determined that the former governor is entitled to legislative immunity because he was a state official and state officials are absolutely immune from federal lawsuits filed against them in their personal capacities for actions taken in connection with legitimate legislative activity.  The court also found that this  immunity applies notwithstanding allegations of misconduct and regardless of whether the office held is legislative or executive—as long as the activity in question is functionally legislative.  In other words, Blagojevich is immune from civil lawsuits for his role in inducing the Illinois legislature to adopt the Horse Racing Acts of 2006 and 2008 and for signing those Acts into law.  

For a full copy of the court’s opinion, click here: