Wisconsin Casino Plans Means Nearby Hard Rock Rockford Project Better Start Rolling

Posted By Joe Boozell on March 30, 2021

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers gave his approval for a $405 million casino plan in Beloit last week, a community close to the Illinois border.

Wisconsin governors have a sole say on casino projects, so the Beloit casino will likely happen. Next, the Bureau of Indian Affairs needs to give its final approval.

Evers said in a statement:

“As we work to bounce back from this pandemic, we must do everything we can to support economic development in communities across our state.”

There isn’t any legal sports betting or online gambling in Wisconsin; however, there are 26 casinos in the Badger State.

In addition to a casino, the facility would feature a 40,000-square-foot waterpark, a hotel and a convention center. It would be near Interstate 39/90.

It would also be about 20 miles from Rockford, IL, which hopes to open the Hard Rock Casino Rockford as soon as possible.

But the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) is notoriously slow in accepting new casino applicants. The IGB found Hard Rock Rockford “preliminary suitable” in February, but has yet to grant final approval.

There appears to be less red tape with the Wisconsin process, and at least one Illinois lawmaker is concerned a Beloit casino could open before a Rockford casino.

Illinois senator: Wisconsin casino a ‘wake-up call’

State Sen. Dave Syverson, who represents Illinois’ 35th District, has never been one to mince words over the IGB’s slow casino application process.

“I’m hoping this will be a wake-up call for the state,” Syverson told ABC Rockford. “The competition is going to be one that, historically, would be a real problem for us.”

Whichever casino opens first would, in theory, have a serious advantage in acquiring customers in the area.

“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.”

Perhaps it’s ironic that of the six new Illinois casino licenses up for grabs, the Rockford process is actually moving the quickest.

Hard Rock Rockford is the only new casino proposal that the IGB has found “preliminarily suitable.” It seems likely that IGB will give final approval at some point, but now, the “when” is a far more urgent question.

“We warned if they didn’t expedite or if they didn’t approve those applications that this was going to be a possibility, and now here we are Beloit has the go-ahead and they’re going to start and we’re continuing to wait,” Syverson said.

The other IL casino licenses up for grabs are in Waukegan, Danville, Williamson County, the south suburbs and Chicago.

The next IGB meeting is on April 21.

Hard Rock Rockford applied for license in 2019

Hard Rock Rockford, in addition to several other applicants, applied for a casino license in October 2019.

They were supposed to get an answer from the IGB within a year. But when October 2020 rolled around, the IGB delayed the decision deadline for at least another six months.

The April 21 board meeting is around that six-month timeline. The meeting agenda becomes available 48 hours in advance.

For those interested in having more IL casinos, the best-case scenario is final approval for Hard Rock Rockford and more “preliminary suitability” findings for a Waukegan, Williamson County and south suburban casino. Danville and Chicago aren’t as far along as those other regions.

Of course, based on the process thus far, all of that happening in one fell swoop seems unlikely.

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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for NCAA.com since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, FoxSports.com and NBA.com. Growing up, Boozell squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene ... you can imagine how that went.

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