Hard Rock Casino Rockford gets preliminary approval from Illinois regulators
It is the first among the six casinos authorized by legislation to be found preliminarily suitable
he Illinois Gaming Board made a unanimous preliminary determination Thursday that the proposal for Hard Rock Casino Rockford is suitable.
This approval was needed to continue, while failure to be found suitable could have derailed the $310 million casino complex project. However, Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter warned Hard Rock that the finding was far from a final approval, Rockford Register Star reports. Fruchter encouraged the company to continue to cooperate with the state’s analysis of owners, ownership structure, investors, vendors and employees.
“Preliminary suitability is an important step in the licensure process, but it is not the ultimate step,” Fruchter said. “It is not final licensure, nor is it a guarantee of final licensure.”
Hard Rock is the first among the group of six casinos authorized by legislation in June 2019 to be found preliminarily suitable. Now, the Gaming Board will continue to investigate key players behind the Hard Rock proposal as the company prepares to submit a detailed plan for operations of its proposed temporary and permanent casinos.
The Gaming Board Chairman Charles Schmadeke made cryptic references to unanswered questions even as he encouraged approval. “Frankly, I have some questions about some of the former and current relationships of some of the key individuals but those are questions — they are not evidence,” Schmadeke said. “All of the evidence that I have seen that’s been produced to the Gaming Board does not show there are any problems. As this matter proceeds, that evidence may or may not develop that some key persons may not have the fitness for this particular project, but we are not there today.”
Dan Fischer, owner of Dotty’s gambling cafe and the chief investor in the Hard Rock Casino Rockford project, is embroiled in a civil lawsuit over efforts to expand his gambling empire. He and others were accused of taking part in a “sham transaction” to expand his chain of gaming establishments in a $46.5 million deal, according to a civil lawsuit filed in Cook County. His company has denied any wrongdoing.
Hard Rock’s proposal includes a 65,000-square-foot casino, a Hard Rock Café and a 1,600-seat Hard Rock Live venue at the former Clock Tower Resort on East State Street at the entrance to Interstate 90.
Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara sent a letter reaffirming the city’s support and encouraging the Gaming Board to find the project suitable, where he pointed out the potential importance of the casino for the city’s economy. The project is expected to generate as many as 1,200 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs at the casino complex. Rockford will receive a minimum of $7 million annually from the casino, under terms of a host community agreement.
Company officials say a temporary slots-only casino will open at Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center within 90 days of approval from the state.
“We are grateful to the state and the Illinois Gaming Board for their support and for allowing this process to get one step closer to reality,” said Jon Lucas, COO for Hard Rock International, in a written statement. “We have a lot of work to do to complete this process, and we are excited at what lies ahead, as we know the city of Rockford is as well, with respect to the jobs and revenues this project will create.”
State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, applauded the decision and praised the application put forward by Fischer and Hard Rock International. “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,” Syverson said in a news release. “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.”