City forges ahead with Hard Rock Casino plans


   On June 29th, 2019, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed Illinois’ gaming expansion bill into law, which allowed Rockford and five other cities within the state to construct casinos. Later in October, the city submitted a proposal in support of Hard Rock International, along with two other plans that were all based in different locations. According to the official City of Rockford website, one of the said proposals was the Forest City Casino, which would have been based south of Mercyhealth’s Javon Bea Hospital off of Riverside Boulevard.  The other was the downtown casino plan, which would have been based south of the Rockford Conference Center by Davis Park. In September, however, the city decided to back Hard Rock’s plan. 

   Once approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, the casino will be constructed off of I-90 and will stand where the Rockford Clock Tower Resort once loomed. The Casino will cost between $250-$330 million. $93 million is expected to go to wages and benefits for local workers including construction workers, and building trades union workers. 

      Whether or not the casino will be a net positive for Rockford is up for debate. It is already ensured that Hard Rock will pay 15% of their net income in the first year. And according to the official City of Rockford website, by 2025 it is projected $7 million annually will be paid to the city of Rockford, $2 million will go to Winnebago County, and $500,000 to both Loves Park and Machesney Park respectively. The money will also be divided between shareholders and the casino owners, along with local municipalities, and the state. 

   “Paying $93 million to local union workers will be a tremendous economic driver for our community,” said Jake Costanza, Executive Director of Project First Rate. “There’s formulas that suggest for every dollar a tradesperson or journeyperson spends, that dollar recycles within a community seven times so there’s an economic value of seven dollars for every dollar invested into the casino’s labor. Project First Rate, along with the buildings trades, and our contractors are looking to collect that money and put it into infrastructure, high speed internet, and special incentives for new capital development for small business and corporations.”

   The Rockford Register Star has reported that the casino will include 1,500 slot machines, 55 table game seats, a Hard Rock Cafe, a 1,600 seat concert venue, various restaurants and taverns, along with a hotel. The casino will sprawl across 65,000 square feet and will possibly host retail stores sometime after its construction. 

   “Other than the traffic, the casino won’t really affect me,” said Ryan Haak, senior. “It’s obviously going to bring a lot of tourists into Rockford, but Illinois does need the money that the casino is going to supply. I’d say the positives outweigh the negatives because of the location of the casino, and I think it’s going to help out the community.”

   According to the Rockford Register Star, the Illinois Gaming Board has until about mid 2020 to decide whether or not to go with the proposal, and if approved, construction will consist of three phases. In the first phase, Hard Rock will use Giovanni’s Restaurant and Convention Center as a temporary casino, including 700 slot machines while the proposed one is under construction. The second phase is the bulk of the process, as the casino will take between 18-24 months to complete. Phase three includes everything that comes after the construction of the general casino. This means the construction of the hotel, taverns, restaurants, retail stores and much more.

   “I feel like the roads and I-90 are going to be packed once the casino is finished,” said Jessicca Sathanand, sophomore. “I think it’s not going to give Rockford the best image,  I don’t like the idea of a casino here but the city does need the money, and in the end the advantages outweigh the disadvantages in my opinion.”

   Beyond the second year of the casino’s construction, Hard Rock will pay 0.5% of adjusted receipts during each subsequent year. Overall, the Hard Rock Casino is sure to bring in plenty of traffic into Rockford and possibly enrich the community. 

   “The casino is the most diverse industry that Rockford has introduced to its region in over 30 years,” said Mr. Costanza. “This isn’t the save all of our community, but it’s a great sign that Rockford is changing and expanding itself to become more sustainable in the events we find downturning in the economy. It stands as a beacon of prosperity for a community that can grow into the future.”