Advocates for a Rockford casino are concerned about a nearby Wisconsin project that continues to move forward.
A project planned for Beloit, just over the border, now has received final approval from Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. The final step entails the Bureau of Indian Affairs approving the placement of the land into a trust.
Meanwhile, 15 miles south, a proposal for a 65,000-square-foot Hard Rock Casino in Rockford is stalled, awaiting action from the Illinois Gaming Board.
“You would think that the state, to get something like this and to get the ‘Hard Rock’ brand, that they would be chipping at this thing to try to get this moving forward quickly as possible,” said state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. “Yet here we are in month nineteen and it’s still not done.”
Syverson, a longtime advocate of a Rockford casino, helped push through the 2019 gambling expansion bill, which gave the city the opportunity to apply for a license. He’s concerned about the consequences of being second to break ground.
“We’re talking about a 10-minute difference,” Syverson said. “Depending on where you’re at, it’s right down the road at I-90. It’s very close. It’s clearly going to be an economic concern for us when they get open, especially if they open before we can.”
The proposal for Rockford includes a 1,600-seat Hard Rock Live venue. The Beloit project is slated to feature a casino, hotel, convention center and waterpark.
The Illinois Gaming Board has had Rockford’s application in-hand since September of 2019. The board initially had up to twelve months to make a decision, but members granted themselves an extension late last year, which is allowed under the Illinois Gambling Act.
Representatives from the Gaming Board did not reply to a request for comment.
With competition looming north of the state border, Syverson says the frustration is building.
“Last September was one year,” Syverson said. “And so now we’re at going into month 19 and we still don’t have a final approval to move forward with at least the temporary casino. That’s the part that’s very frustrating. Nineteen months just to get a clean, simple application approved.”
He hopes for word soon so groundbreaking can take place this calendar year and give Rockford a chance to beat Wisconsin to opening day. A site for a temporary casino, not far from the permanent location, already has been identified. However, work on that venue also cannot begin until further again from the Board.
The next meeting of the Illinois Gaming Board is set for April 21. The agenda has not yet been made public.