Hard Rock International Wants to Roll in Rockford, Among Three Bidders For Casino Project in Illinois Town

Posted on: August 31, 2019, 05:00h. 

Last updated on: September 1, 2019, 11:49h.

Hard Rock International is among three bidders looking to bring a casino to the Northern Illinois town of Rockford. The municipality set a deadline of 2 p.m. local time Friday for interested parties to submit proposals.

Downtown Rockford, Ill. could be home to a casino in the future. (Image: WIFR)

The local government has set up a request for proposal (RFP) group that will evaluate the various bids in advance of a public hearing on Sept. 23. Residents will have a chance to comment on the gaming property deal at that time.

Commensurate with Hard Rock’s rock and roll lineage, Karen Nielsen, the wife of “Cheap Trick” guitarist Rick Nielsen, an Illinois native, and other family members delivered the company’s proposal to policymakers Friday in a music case.

We’ve been proactive and pro-Rockford, pushing this casino for seven years,” said Karen Nielsen, reports The Rockford Register Star. “Hard Rock would be the best thing for Rockford. We, as a family, stand behind it.”

Hard Rock, which operates 11 casinos, is pitching Rockford on a property that would be near an on-ramp for Interstate 90 (I-90). The company is also promising a 2,000-square-foot music venue near I-90 to accompany the gaming property.

Rival Bids

News of Hard Rock’s Illinois interest comes about a week after the company put forth a $1.1 billion proposal to transform the old Hellenikon International Airport near Athens, Greece into a casino. The company is widely viewed as one of two front runners for that deal, with Mohegan Gaming being the other.

In the Land of Lincoln, Hard Rock faces competition for the Rockford casino venture from another company with gaming industry experience: Luna Entertainment. That Michigan-based company says the gaming industry is a “core competency,” and that it has developed, financed, and owned casinos in Colorado, Nevada, California, and Oklahoma.

Currently, Luna Entertainment has stakes in two tribal gaming properties – the Kiowa Casino in Oklahoma, and the Running Creek Casino in California. In addition to gaming investments, Luna is a real estate developer and a venture capital firm with interests in other fields, including auto dealerships and a winery. The company is angling to use 135 acres of land near the Javon Bea-Riverside hospital in Rockford for its gaming project.

The third bidder is Wisconsin-based Gorman & Co., which appears to be a real estate developer. The company’s website does not indicate a current gaming industry presence. Gorman pitched Rockford politicians on a downtown gaming venue.

Prairie State Gaming

The Rockford casino initiative is part of broader gaming legislation passed by Illinois earlier this year that could see the addition of up to six casinos, including one in Chicago, in an already loaded Midwest gambling market.

While policymakers there are banking on increased gambling options as a way of shoring up the state’s shoddy finances, some gaming companies have already warned that the Illinois tax scheme makes some new casinos not financially viable before the projects even get off the ground.

The Rockford project and a similar venture in Waukegan, Ill., which lured six bidders, are expected to be practical for operators in terms of costs and taxes.