The Hard Rock Casino Rockford is one step closer to an official license after the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) approved plans for a temporary casino at a former restaurant site last week.
Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara issued a statement on Friday:
“Of the six casinos that were approved in the casino expansion bill in 2019, we are the first to begin construction! This is a huge accomplishment!”
Is the Illinois casinos process gaining momentum?
The 2019 gaming package allows for six new casinos in Illinois to be built. The designated regions are:
- Williamson County
- South suburbs
In February, the IGB found Hard Rock Rockford “preliminarily suitable” for a license. Earlier this month, Walker’s Bluff Casino in Williamson County earned preliminarily suitability, too.
But, in general, the new Illinois casino process has moved at an extremely slow pace. Hard Rock Rockford is the furthest along of any new casino project.
State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) said construction could begin as early as next week. Syverson has been a vocal supporter of the Hard Rock Illinois project and has criticized the IGB for its slow-moving process.
“For more than 20 years, I have worked to bring this project to fruition, knowing that it will have such a positive economic impact locally. After so long, it is very rewarding to see this project gain real momentum.”
Syverson said the temporary Hard Rock Casino site could operate for up to two years. According to the Rockford Register Star, construction of the temporary location is expected to take about three months.
The IGB initially denied Hard Rock’s temporary casino application in April. The gaming board learned that the owner of Giovanni’s Restaurant and Convention Center, the site of the temporary casino, was involved in a previously undisclosed shooting incident in 2020.
To resolve the situation, project developer 815 Entertainment purchased the building.
What to know about Hard Rock Casino Rockford
The permanent casino will cost about $310 million to construct and will be located at the intersection of State Street and I-90.
That’s a little less than a mile away from the temporary facility. The permanent casino will feature 64,000 square feet of gaming space and a Hard Rock Live entertainment venue.
Hard Rock has also pledged to pay the city of Rockford at least $7 million per year of its gaming revenue. In total, the new Illinois casino should generate over 1,000 full- and part-time jobs.
As it stands, Hard Rock Rockford is the clear favorite to be the next casino built in Illinois.
A race with the Wisconsin casino
In late March, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers approved a $405 million casino plan in Beloit. Rockford is just about 20 miles away from Beloit.
So, the two casinos will be fighting over a similar clientele. For that reason, opening first could serve as a significant long-term advantage.
Syverson said then that he hoped the Beloit casino news would serve as a “wake-up call” to the IGB. He also added:
“If Wisconsin beats us to the punch and gets (the casino) opened, people are going to get used to going to a casino like that, and then it makes it tougher (to) bring them back home.”
We don’t know whether or not a Wisconsin casino inspired the IGB to act faster. Either way, Friday was a significant day for the Hard Rock Casino in Rockford.
The IGB certainly wouldn’t want to lose possible tax income to Wisconsin, so it had an incentive to act. As it stands, it appears the Hard Rock will be first to market thanks to its temporary casino.