Hard Rock Rockford Continues Hiring Push With Local Marine Veteran As Gaming Director

Written By T.J. McBride on June 6, 2024
Hand shake signifies hiring of new gaming director at Hard Rock Rockford

Hard Rock Casino Rockford has yet to reach its potential. It is operating out of a temporary facility while its permanent home is being built, but that is not stopping the casino from continuing to grow.

Hiring Mark Johnson as its director of gaming operations is the most recent step forward for Hard Rock. Johnson is a Rockford native, and his new role has a lot to do with him coming home after two decades away.

Illinois online casinos are still illegal, so there is no opportunity to make headway in iGaming. Instead, Hard Rock is looking to take over more Illinois casino market share with new hires and more gaming options while its permanent home gets closer to completion.

Johnson Ecstatic to See Hard Rock Casino in His Hometown

Johnson being tapped as Hard Rock Rockford’s new director of gaming operations seems like an ideal match.

He is a Rockford native and a graduate of East High School. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and spent six years working on helicopters, then moved to Florida with his family. That is where he started working for Hard Rock.

Now, Johnson is set to take over all gaming operations at Hard Rock Casino Rockford.

He spoke to ABC-17 Rockford about what has changed and what has stayed the same in Rockford, but above all, he expressed his excitement about the future permanent casino.

“It’s surreal to come back to see how much it’s changed but [is] still the same. You know, it’s just the growth within the community, whether it’s expanding on the northeast side or the renovations that are being done across the community, it’s just amazing. And again, we’re part of the community board, so all of us being able to now be part of the growth of Rockford, it’s a great opportunity that I appreciate Hard Rock Casino Rockford for.”

“The casino looks amazing. It’s crazy to see, like, day by day. You go there and it’s unrecognizable, from the start of just being a concrete slab to now the carpets are in and the first slot machine is going in next week. It’ll be probably one of the greatest things, at least that I’ve been alive for, to see in Rockford.”

Hard Rock Rockford President Geno Iafrate shared his excitement about bringing Johnson into the fold, saying,

“People spend 18 years of their lives trying to get out of their hometown, and then they spend the rest of their lives trying to get back. Mark made it. I think it took him almost 20 years, but he made it back to his hometown, him and his wife. You know, they were born here, grew up here, went to high school here. It’s really a great story.”

Permanent facility for Hard Rock Rockford set to open in August

The real growth for Hard Rock will take place when its new home at Interstate 90 and East Street officially opens.Location for Hard Rock Rockford Hotel Casino

The current projection for the casino’s completion is Labor Day. It will be a 180,000-square-foot facility, with 65,000 square feet dedicated to the gaming floor, and will feature 1,300 slot machines and 44 table games, including six poker tables and a sportsbook.

Other expected offerings are a Hard Rock Café, a Council Oak restaurant for a finer dining experience, a food hall, and two retail shops, the Rock Shop and the Unity Store. The plan is to eventually open a Hard Rock Live entertainment venue that would seat 1,600 people and could be used as an event space.

To accomplish these lofty goals, Hard Rock is currently on a hiring spree. In addition to Johnson as director of gaming operations, the company has tapped Aleksandra Micevic as the new human resources manager. She will fill out the ranks. Hard Rock is looking to hire 750 people to work at the new casino.

Johnson said his department has already grown from 50 people to nearly 200.

“Originally, we started off with the temporary [casino], with 50 people in my department,” he said. “Now, we’re going to grow to over 180. It’s great to be able to afford all these people opportunities for advancement, opportunities for growth within the company.”

Hard Rock Rockford is going full steam ahead as it prepares for its grand opening in its permanent home.

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T.J. McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver. He covers the gaming landscape across multiple states in addition to his main beat covering the NBA's Denver Nuggets. His NBA work can be found at several major media outlets including ESPN, FiveThirtyEight and Bleacher Report.

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