How Chicago Real Estate and Casino Billionaire Neil Bluhm Is Giving His Money Away

Neil Bluhm made headlines on the philanthropy scene last year after donating $25 million to Northwestern University, where he received his law degree and currently serves as a member of the board of trustees. This Chicago real estate and casino magnate established the Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation in 2007, and at the age of 76, he has an estimated net worth of $2.6 billion.

Bluhm began building his billions when he co-founded JMB Realty with his college roommate in 1970. That was going well, until the real estate crash of the early 1990s, but he bounced back by founding private equity firm Walton Street Capital in 1994. He began his career as an attorney, and was once a partner at the Mayer, Brown and Platt law firm in Chicago. Today, Bluhm still owns part of JMB Realty and he’s ventured into the casino business, running Rivers Casinos in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines and Pennsylvania and Casino Niagara in New York.  Over the past 40 years, Bluhm has overseen the acquisition and development of approximately $50 billion in real estate and casino projects.

From Bluhm’s newsworthy $25 million Northwestern grant, $15 million went to the law school to fund student financial aid programs and a legal clinic in his name. However, the leftover funds went to Northwestern’s cardiovascular institute, the music school, and the Holocaust Educational Foundation. Some of this money came from Bluhm’s foundation and some of it from him directly. Northwestern is no stranger to Bluhm’s support, considering that he sent nearly $7 million to his alma mater in 1999.

Although Bluhm’s foundation has otherwise been pretty quiet with its grantmaking, its impact does extend beyond the realm of higher education. Giving has primarily been focused on museums, education, social services, and children and youth services, including a children's hospital. The Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation made the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School of Chicago “Honor Roll” by recently donating between $1,000 and $2,500. This is a non-selective, public charter school and is open to all young women entering grades 7-12 and living in the city of Chicago. The foundation also recently donated at least $10,000 to the Chicago Children’s Choir.

At the end of 2012, the Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation reported over $15 million in assets with nearly $3 million in total giving. Bluhm grants tend to be anywhere between $1,000 and $1 million, and 36 of them were handed out in 2012.

The Chicago resident is divorced and has three children. Although he has not signed the Giving Pledge, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a sizeable portion of Bluhm’s personal assets start making their way over to his family foundation soon.

The foundation contact person is Mary Ann Casey, and the best way to get in touch is by snail mailing a letter to The Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation, 900 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 900, Chicago, IL 60611-6543.