Hard Rock takes step toward Rockford casino license approval

Jeff Kolkey

| Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD — Hard Rock Casino Rockford on Wednesday could take another step toward state license approval when 815 Entertainment LLC makes its case before the Illinois Gaming Board.

Final approval is not expected this week. But Rockford will become the first from a group of six casino proposals allowed under a state gaming expansion to make its case for a “preliminary suitability determination.” It is one of several required remaining steps in the approval process.

“The Hard Rock Rockford team eagerly anticipates presenting the highlights of its plan to the Illinois Gaming Board on Wednesday and will be available to answer questions,” said spokeswoman Pam Maher of KMK Media Group.

“We’re grateful for the continued support from the Rockford community, we’re confident in the proposal, and we can’t wait to get this exciting, highly anticipated project moving forward to benefit the region.”

City Council in late 2019 certified Hard Rock’s $310 million proposal for a 65,000-square-foot casino, Hard Rock Café and 1,600-seat Hard Rock Live venue at the location of the former Clock Tower Resort on East State Street near the entrance to Interstate 90.

The facility initially would contain 1,500 slot machines and 55 table games with room for expansion. While under construction, Hard Rock is seeking a license to operate a temporary casino at Giovanni’s, less than a mile away on Bell School Road.

More: Before Rockford gets a casino, it may get a casino, only smaller

The deal was engineered by 815 Entertainment, a company that unites a group of more than 50 investors who include some prominent local business and civic leaders with Hard Rock International.

The project is expected to produce more than 800 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent casino jobs. And it could mean more than $7 million annually in revenue for the city of Rockford.

Illinois Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter said during an October board meeting that a preliminary licensing decision was slowed by the global coronavirus pandemic. Despite already taking more than a year to consider the casino application and complete a background investigation, the board gave itself six additional months to complete the preliminary approval process.

Fruchter had ticked off several remaining steps in the process including an “assessment of the casino gaming operations, a final practice gaming session, licensure action by the board and then any different or additional licensing procedures required by statute or board rules.”

Mayor Tom McNamara on Tuesday said the fact that Rockford’s proposal is the first among the group of proposed casinos from a state gaming expansion is a promising sign that the project is moving forward.

“This has obviously been an incredibly long road for the city of Rockford,” McNamara said. “It has taken decades for us to get this casino, but I am very optimistic that our proposal will be approved so that we can really begin to turn this long awaited vision into a reality.”

Jeff Kolkey: [email protected]; @jeffkolkey

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