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Hard Rock Beats Two Rivals For Rockford Mayor Endorsement in Quest to Launch Casino in Illinois City

Hard Rock International, which is competing with two other firms to open an integrated resort in Rockford, Ill., won a prized endorsement Monday from Mayor Tom McNamara (D) and city staff.

Hard Rock International won a key endorsement in its bid to build a casino in Rockford. Ill. (Image: USA Today)

Last month, Hard Rock, which operates 11 casinos, unveiled a bid to construct a gaming property adjacent to an on-ramp for Interstate 90 (I-90). The company is pitching a casino with 1,500 slot machines and 55 table games, as well as a 1,600-seat entertainment venue.

A pledge to deliver at least $7 million in annual tax revenue to Rockford appears to be the catalyst for McNamara and city staff recommending that the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) approve Hard Rock’s plans for the Prairie State town.

After review and consideration of all of the responses and weighing the totality of the strengths and weaknesses against the City’s objectives, City Staff recommends that City Council certify the Hard Rock proposal to the IGB. Hard Rock has the strongest and most complete proposal,” according to a statement issued by McNamara’s office.

Hard Rock is also willing to pitch in on some of the costs associated with increased needs for fire and law enforcement services after the property is built. The gaming company also promised to make contributions to underdeveloped areas of Rockford.

Rival Bids

Among the companies Hard Rock is tussling with to win the Rockford license is Wisconsin-based Gorman & Co., a real estate development firm. That company is looking to build a gaming property in the downtown area. Gorman’s bid was rebuffed by McNamara and the city for several reasons.

“Although it has attractive features, Staff cannot recommend the Gorman proposal at this time for a variety of reasons,” according to the mayor’s office. “Gorman has not secured a casino operator, has not provided a complete financing package; it has made no application for zoning; it must relocate an existing manufacturing business; and it has no experience developing a casino property.”

A bid from an entity known as Forest City was commended for offering non-gaming features, including a golf complex, additional hotel space, an entertainment venue and campgrounds. But Rockford officials balked at that proposal due to the company’s lack of financing details.

The Forest City “proposal also does not contemplate approximately $46 million of expenses associated with the casino. Given the lack of details regarding sources of debt and equity funding and incomplete data, there is a significant risk that financing for the casino/hotel project may be unavailable or insufficient at this time.”

What’s Next

McNamara expects that a casino project in his town will create “hundreds” of construction and full-time jobs. He believes Hard Rock’s effort has the greatest long-term benefit for the city. But the mayor’s Hard Rock recommendation isn’t the final step in the process.

Rather, the city council will consider all three bids, then make a decision and send the selected proposal on to the IGB on or before Oct. 25.

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