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Hard Rock Casino Proposed in Rockford, Illinois Folds Poker Hand

Assuming the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) signs off on Hard Rock International’s proposal to build a casino in Rockford, Ill., that venue will not include poker tables.

Hard Rock’s proposed casino in Rockford, Ill. is folding on the idea of poker tables, (Image: NBC 6 South Florida)

Hard Rock, which was one of three companies bidding to bring a gaming property to the Northern Illinois city, recently gained endorsements from Mayor Tom McNamara and the city council, meaning the company’s proposal will be the only one policymakers there send to the IGB for final consideration.

The operator of 11 other casinos is promising to build a venue near Interstate 90 (I-90) that will feature 65,000 square feet of gaming space and a 1,600-seat entertainment arena. The gaming area is expected to feature 1,500 slot machines and 55 table games, including traditional offerings such as blackjack, craps, and roulette, but no poker tables.

The reason some casinos may limit or outright exclude poker tables is simple: whether it’s Texas Hold ‘Em, seven-card stud, or another variation of the game, poker isn’t as profitable for the house as slots, blackjack, or other table games.

Results from three different Nevada hotel-casinos failed to support the popular notion that poker rooms drive business to the slot and table game areas of the casino floor,” said professor Anthony Lucas of the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV in a 2014 paper examining poker profitability for gaming operators.

Lucas’ paper notes that in 2008, Hard Rock spent $30 million on a poker area at its Las Vegas property, only to shutter that space two years later. Mohegan Gaming is taking control of that venue when it takes the Virgin brand in 2020.

It’s All About Profits

For operators, the math is simple when it comes to justifying limited or no poker tables. As Lucas’ research suggests, poker aficionados come to casinos to play that game and there’s little crossover to slots or other table games.

Second, poker, whether it’s Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha Hi-Lo, or another variant of the game, pits players against each other with the house taking a percentage of that action. That’s less lucrative than, say, blackjack or roulette, where gamblers are matched against the house.

“A typical Las Vegas casino poker room with 20 tables generates about $3 million a year in operating profits,” said Lucas in an interview with the Rockford Register Star. Replacing those poker tables with 200 slot machines would be expected to generate nearly $15 million a year.

Under current Illinois law, gaming properties can have a maximum of 2,000 offerings in a single venue, including slots, poker, and table games. Any space dedicated to poker is square footage taking away from games that can potentially provide more benefit to the operator’s bottom line.

What’s Next

For Hard Rock, making the Rockford property as profitable as possible in short order is important because the company is promising to deliver a minimum of $7 million annually in tax revenue to the city.

In addition to the tax guarantee, the company told Rockford politicians it will contribute to the increased tab for more fire and law enforcement services that will be needed after the casino opens, as well as a promise for financial commitments to some areas of the city that need rejuvenating.

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