The Illinois gaming bill’s implementation process hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing over the past year. That led to Illinois state Sen. Dave Syverson making some scathing remarks to the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) this week.
Hard Rock submitted casino proposal nine months ago
Syverson represents Rockford. He said city officials submitted their casino proposal nine months ago, but it is still months away from being approved. Hard Rock International would operate the casino, which the IGB hopes to approve by October.
“[October] is 12 months from the time it was submitted,” Syverson told The Center Square. “It is just ridiculous that it’s taking this long for a group just to review a simple application.”
Syverson is frustrated that the IGB doesn’t appear to be doing everything it can to implement expansion in the midst of COVID-19. If anything, Syverson says, the pandemic should expedite their work.
“We’ve asked [IGB] if the location can, at their own expense, start doing some development,” Syverson said. “Can they do the land work? Can they do that stuff now, while the weather is good, so they can get a jump on it? And the gaming board said, ‘No, you can’t. You can’t lift a shovel on that property, or we’re going to cancel that contract.’ So it’s really ridiculous.”
The IGB’s response
IGB administrator Marcus Fruchter points to lawmakers as the reason for the slow-moving process. He notes that legislators had been considering the gaming bill for almost 10 years and could have worked out these kinks.
“If any legislator wanted a less ethical or less rigorous new casino application process, they could have changed the legislation over those 10 years to expedite the IGB review and approval process,” Fruchter said. “Moreover, the IGB’s responsibilities have more than doubled since the bill became law last June.”
Gov. JB Pritzker signed the bill allowing for six new casinos in Illinois about a year ago. Syverson argues that Rockford’s proposal should be among the first considered because it already has its casino operator. The same goes for downstate Williamson County.
“They’re both desperately waiting,” Syverson said. “The other applications are more complicated. Why not just take the easy ones that are clean, get those two done and approved and get them up and operating, and then work on the other applications?”
The risk in waiting to build Hard Rock
Syverson’s concerns are two-fold. First, the obvious: the longer the approval process takes, the longer the wait for creating hundreds of jobs and generating millions in state revenue.
“With the casinos closed and the video gaming closed, you have 250 employees that are sitting around doing nothing,” Syverson said. “The staff that’s working on the application, they’re still there, they’re still being paid. In addition, you have all this other staff with nothing to do who could have been assisting them in getting it done.”
Then there’s the possibility that out-of-state competitors could beat Illinois casinos to open in certain regions. For example, there is a proposal for a mega-casino in Beloit, Wisconsin, about a 30-minute drive from Rockford. Syverson fears Rockford could lose customers if it doesn’t act fast.
“If Beloit opens up first, you’re going to get people that are going to go there and they may be comfortable going there and they may continue to go there even after Rockford opens up,” Syverson said. “We could have easily beat them to the punch. But, obviously, the gaming board doesn’t seem to care.”
Fruchter offered a vague response outside of criticizing lawmakers.
“There is no typical timeline for the Board’s review and investigation process,” Fruchter said. “The IGB does not comment on or speculate about potential timelines, hypothetical operational scenarios, or potential future Board actions. Nor does the IGB comment on the status of pending applications, other than to say that it is processing, vetting and investigating the new casino applicant submissions.”
If we had to guess, Illinois’ casino drama won’t be going away any time soon. We’ll keep you updated with the latest developments.