At an invitation-only announcement today at the site of the former Clock Tower Resort, Jim Allen, chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Hard Rock International together with Cheap Trick guitarist, Rick Nielsen, presented their proposal for a Hard Rock Casino Rockford.

While the location on East State Street is considered a favorite to win the one and only available Rockford casino license, other worthy proposals are also expected, according to the Rockford Register Star.

Late last month, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed bills authorizing a $45 billion construction plan courtesy of revenue from significant tax hikes on gas and cigarettes and massive gambling expansion, including brand new casinos in the city of Chicago and the suburbs, and legalized sports betting. The gambling expansion, along with cigarette and gas tax increases that both took effect on July 1, 2019, will serve to fuel the “Rebuild Illinois” capital spending plan, that Gov. Pritzker called “the largest, most robust capital plan in state history,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Tuesday’s live press conference:

At the WIFR TV coverage on Tuesday afternoon, Allen talked about the Hard Rock brand and how the proposal is a “competition” and they want to keep a lot of the details confidential. During the brief Q & A with media, he said that a project estimate would be announced when they submit their response to the request for proposal (RFP), again noting that “they” don’t want the competition to know how much they’re spending. However, he did say that these types of projects are “traditionally in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Allen said they would be interested in a temporary casino, that it is included in the legislation, and that local partners have been working on the project for seven years, and that they’ve had the relationship for three years. When asked about the interest in the location, Allen said that the site in Rockford was “prime real estate” due to “its history as the center point of entertainment,” and having access to major highways.

He went on to say that the development would provide for approximately 1,000 to 1,200 permanent jobs and about 1,000 construction jobs almost 100% of which would be local contractors, with a preference given to local residents. Allen said that phase one could be expected to be completed within 12-14 months and that the venue would be 100% branded and managed by Hard Rock, with ownership a partnership.

Licensing process:

In addition to new casinos, the Illinois Gaming Board will be responsible for issuing licenses for sportsbooks, and expanded gambling options at horse racing tracks. Gambling license review and approval is a time-consuming, complex process that among other requirements includes conducting thorough criminal background checks, all of which could take at least several months.

The Gaming Board will, prior to issuing a license for the Chicago casino, work alongside the city to conduct a feasibility study and to put forth recommendations for any alterations to the license terms, a process that could go into late December.

According to the Tribune, those companies looking to open new casinos in Lake County’s largest city, Waukegan, the south suburbs, Danville, Rockford and Williamson County will have just 120 days to submit their applications. Once the applications are received, the board will have up to 12 months to issue licenses.

Horse racing tracks wishing to install table games and slot machines will reportedly have 60 days to submit an application to the board, which will have the same 120-day processing time to award the licenses.

Expansion timeline:

The Rockford Register Star reports that the following casino expansion timetable has been offered by the city of Rockford:

  • July 25: Last day for interested proposers to submit written questions
  • August 1: Responses to questions distributed via addendum and on the City’s website
  • Aug. 16: Request for Proposals responses due by 2 p.m.
  • Aug. 19-Sept. 13: City follow-up questions to proposers, evaluation
  • September 16: Evaluation team submits recommendations to City Council
  • Sept. 23: Public Hearing
  • By Sept. 30: City Council certifies proposers
  • Before Oct. 25: Applications filed with Illinois Gaming Board

On July 3, Rockford issued an RFP, however, it is not due until August 16. If the proposal progresses, an application could reportedly be filed with the Illinois Gaming Board by late October.

The company:

One of the most globally recognized companies, Hard Rock International has venues in 74 countries, including 183 cafes, 27 hotels and 12 casinos. The Florida-based hospitality company owns, operates and franchises Cafes in major cities including London, New York, San Francisco, Sydney and Dubai and also owns, licenses and/or manages hotel/casino properties worldwide. Included in its destinations are the company’s two most successful hotel and casino properties in Tampa and Hollywood, FL., both owned and operated by its parent entity the Seminole Tribe of Florida, as well as many other locations.

Gary Hard Rock:

In related news, on Sunday Spectacle Entertainment, which operates as an investment company in the gaming industry and is responsible for the Majestic Star Casino Hotel and Majestic Star Casino Hotel II riverboat casinos in the city of Gary, announced that it has signed a joint venture agreement with the Florida-based company to apply the Hard Rock brand to the new $400 million land-based casino that’s slated to open in Gary, Indiana.

Under the terms of the agreement, Hard Rock will manage the Gary casino, which is only approximately 120 miles southwest of the proposed Rockford casino site, on Spectacle’s behalf. Growing from the previous project size, which was pegged at $300 million, the Gary casino now figures to be a $400 investment and will reportedly include a Hard Rock Live, a concert venue for live entertainment, a Hard Rock Café, and multiple restaurants and bars.

Spectacle also reportedly plans on using the Hard Rock brand if it wins the right to open a new casino in the city of Terre Haute, Indiana.