Gov. Pritzker, Illinois Officials Excited as Gaming Board Moves Rockford Casino Forward

Posted on: February 6, 2021, 09:37h. 

Last updated on: February 6, 2021, 10:10h.

One day after the Illinois Gaming Board gave preliminary approval for a Hard Rock Casino to be built in Rockford, Gov. JB Pritzker (D) offered his congratulations to the city and the backers of the proposed $310 million development.

Pritzker Rockford
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (right) talks with staffers at a vaccination clinic in a Rockford high school on Friday. At a press conference at the site, Pritzker congratulated the city on getting preliminary approval for a casino from the Illinois Gaming Board. (Image: GovPritzker/Twitter)

While in the Northern Illinois community for a COVID vaccine press conference Friday, Pritzker acknowledged the work Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara (D) did behind the scenes, especially in the past year. The governor said he’s talked with the mayor numerous times over the course of the year, and Pritzker said that during every conversation the topic’s been discussed.

There couldn’t be a better time to spur new jobs and economic development for this region, as well as for the state of Illinois,” the governor said.

The IGB’s action means that construction will be able to start on the project. However, city leaders weren’t exactly sure when that work would start.

Rockford is the first community to get preliminary approval for a standalone casino license that was created as part of the 2019 expanded gaming law. Other casinos are slated for downtown Chicago, Danville, Chicago’s south suburbs, and Williamson County.

Work is underway on adding casinos to two racetracks in the state.

Investigation Leads to Questions, But No Evidence So Far

The IGB gave its approval even though a key investor in the project has another company that’s currently being investigated by the agency.

Dan Fischer is the managing partner for 815 Entertainment. He also happens to own a chain of gaming cafes. That company remains under investigation after questions were raised about its acquisition of another chain’s properties. Under terms of the agreement, Fischer paid $2 million while a gaming terminal vendor paid $44 million.

Illinois state law prohibits gaming machine vendors from also owning establishments that host them.

A Fischer spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune that the Rockford team looks forward to meeting with IGB staff to answer “any questions” as the project continues through the approval process.

Stakeholders presented their casino plans to the board at a Jan. 27 meeting. On Thursday morning, IGB board members met in closed session to discuss the project. They then reconvened that afternoon for a brief session to unanimously give its initial approval. There was no discussion about the investigation in open session.

Board Chairman Charles Schmadeke said he had some questions about relationships, but noted there was no evidence.

Senator Expects Final Approval for Casino “Shortly”

Pritzker isn’t the only official excited about seeing the casino project move forward in the second-largest city in Illinois. McNamara thanked the governor and the local delegation representing Rockford in the state legislature for their work.

State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) said it’s taken 20 years to get a casino for Rockford. He thanked McNamara, city staff, Fischer, and Hard Rock International for their work. He added that some criticized the plan for the city to pick an applicant and present that to the IGB. However, those communities that have offered state regulators multiple proposals are still waiting to get heard.

“While today’s action is not final approval, it does allow Hard Rock to move forward with and for us to get the temporary casino up and running,” said Sen. Syverson, a cosponsor of the expanded gaming bill. “I am confident because of the great work done at the front end of this process, the final approval will come shortly. This is a huge win for Rockford and the region.”

Developers will build the casino at the city’s former Clock Tower Resort, just off Interstates 39 and 90. It will employ up to 1,000 people. It will also provide up to 1,200 construction jobs leading up to the venue’s grand opening.

Once open, the facility will contain a 65,000-square-foot casino, as well as a 1,600-seat auditorium.