Updated: April 18, 2013 6:59AM
Cook County Commissioner William Beavers told me during a break in his trial Friday that he plays the slot machines to relax.
That’s why I could never be a real gambler.
I don’t see how anybody could relax while losing a jaw dropping $477,000 in three years, which is what Beavers lost playing slots at Hammond’s Horseshoe Casino between 2006 and 2008, according to the casino’s records.
I remember sitting down at a quarter slot machine in Las Vegas many years ago with a self-imposed $20 limit and walking away an hour later excited, agitated, geeked and disappointed after watching that $20 go up and down and eventually disappear. But relaxed? Not hardly.
Beavers, on the other hand, is probably telling the truth — about that.
On the larger question of where he came up with that much money to lose, well, we can wait for the jury to decide whether he’s telling the truth there as well.
Federal prosecutors have accused Beavers of taking $226,000 out of his campaign funds over that same three-year period without reporting it on his income taxes.
They say that’s a key component of how he was able to support a $500,000 a year slot machine habit that qualified him as a “Seven Star” gambler at the Horseshoe — ranking him among the casino’s most-favored customers.
Beavers’ lawyers says the campaign checks written to himself were just loans that he repaid or were reimbursements for legitimate political expenditures.
In the hallway outside court Friday, Beavers denied to me that he’d lost anywhere near the $477,000 indicated on casino records put into evidence Friday.
To be clear, that’s alleged to be his net loss — as tracked by the casino’s computers using his players reward card. Although the tracking system apparently isn’t foolproof, testimony from a casino official indicated that’s a pretty solid number.
The 78-year-old Beavers will soon have the chance to tell the jury himself, and unlike most accused public officials in his position, I take him at his word that he intends to take the stand.
Anybody who knows him can tell you that he’s just itching to get up there and tell his side of things.
I’ve known him since 1983 when he was elected to the City Council in the same wave as Mayor Harold Washington.
The truth is that most reporters, myself included, like Beavers because he has always been a straight-shooter, which should not be confused with attesting to his honesty.
It just means that he says what’s on his mind without a lot of subterfuge, which is a valuable trait in a politician for someone in my line of work.
For most of his political career, Beavers was content to keep a low profile on the City Council as his power grew with his seniority. That all changed in 2006 when Cook County Board President John Stroger suffered a stroke and Beavers aggressively stepped to the forefront to engineer a political deal that allowed Stroger’s son, Todd, to succeed him as president while Beavers moved to the County Board.
It’s only since then that Beavers has emerged as the self-proclaimed “hog with the big nuts.”
Always a clothes horse, Beavers came to court Friday in a sharp steel blue suit with a matching red, white and blue rep tie and red handkerchief. It was his third different suit in three days.
I was just trying to find out what his favorite slot machine was when I struck up a conversation. I thought most slot players prefer specific machines but Beavers told me he just picks a machine mainly by the odds displayed on the front. He said he doesn’t like anything with long odds, which he defined as 12-to-1 or over.
“Where else is an old person going to go where you don’t have to look over your shoulder?” he asked me.
Beavers also famously used to smoke to relax, unapologetically in the rear of the City Council chamber long after that was considered impolite. That was one of the reasons he liked the Horseshoe, which allows smoking, in addition to its close proximity to his home. But he says he quit smoking three years ago, and the proof is in the pudding. Unlike most smokers, he doesn’t rush outside during court breaks.
Even with the city’s best courtroom showman in his corner in Sam Adam Jr., Beavers will have a hard time overcoming the case that federal prosecutors are methodically building against him.
I like Bill Beavers. But right now, I don’t like his odds.