Competition for Rockford’s single casino license heats up; three proposals submitted

All vying for the chance to win the right to build and operate a casino, three competitors have each submitted a proposal to the city of Rockford in the hopes of being granted the single available license.

Ahead of a 2pm deadline, two of the three proposals along with checks to cover the $75,000 application fee were delivered to City Hall on Friday afternoon. After delivery, the proposals; one for the far east side of the city, the other along the Rock River on the city’s west side, were sealed with red tape by city workers.

City purchasing officials will open the proposals when a review team is able to examine the information.

According to the Rockford Register Star…

…a statement was released by the northern Illinois city saying that proposals will be certified that “make a significant and lasting contribution to the city, are a catalyst for economic development, create jobs and new employment opportunities for residents, and utilize local and small business suppliers and vendors.”

Review process:

Prior to a public hearing scheduled for September 23, the next two weeks will reportedly be used by the city and its consultants to review the proposals, question applicants, and negotiate the best possible deal. According to the news agency, city officials plan on sending one or possibly more certified proposals to the state’s Gaming Board by October’s end.

The three applicants include:

Businessmen Henry Leong and Kjell Kaashagen, whose proposal for a Forest City Casino was reportedly submitted just minutes prior to Friday’s 2pm deadline. The pair said their proposal was for a ‘casino, hotel, golf entertainment complex, waterpark and family fun center’ to be located on a 135-acre site south of Mercyhealth’s Javon Bea Hospital-Riverside on E Riverside Blvd in Rockford.Gorman & Co. Illinois Market President Ron Clewer’s proposal is for a casino, Rockford Aquarium and entertainment complex to be located on a 13-acre site south of the Embassy Suites & Rockford Conference Center. Gorman is reportedly brokering the land deal for where the casino/entertainment complex would be located. The casino operator will reportedly be identified by the city it makes public information form the formal proposal.The first operator to submit a proposal was Hard Rock International, when at noon on Friday, members of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen’s family, delivered a large “roadie” case embellished with the Hard Rock Casino Rockford logo. The proposal for the site of the former Clock Tower Resort at East State Street announced in July reportedly 7BALL includes a casino along with a 2,000-seat concert venue. According to Hard Rock officials, their proposal would mean 1,200 temporary constructions jobs and after the casino opens, 1,000 permanent full and part-time jobs.

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Illinois gambling expansion:

In late June, 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.”

The new law grows the number of available casino licenses for the midwestern state, adding them [licenses] for Chicago, Waukegan, Rockford, the South Suburbs, Williamson County (Walker’s Bluff), and Danville.

Seven-year push:

Cheap Trick guitarist, Rick Nielsen’s wife, Karen Nielsen, who led the proposal, said that she and her husband had pushed for the casino long before the gaming bill was signed by Governor Pritzker.

She said…

“We didn’t just jump on board once the bill was signed. We’ve been proactive and pro-Rockford, pushing this casino for seven years. Hard Rock would be the best thing for Rockford. We as a family stand behind it.”

Waukegan proposals:

Meanwhile, on August 5, 2019, five leaders of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee announced that they had submitted a response to request for proposal to develop a casino in Waukegan.

More recently, American casino operator, Rush Street Gaming, also unveiled a plan that would see it partner with counterpart Churchill Downs Incorporated to build and operate a 1,625-seat gambling venue in the northern Illinois city that is situated approximately halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Selected plans are to undergo further scrutiny before officials in the Lake County community submit their final recommendation to the Illinois Gaming Board in advance of an October 25 deadline.

In addition to the Rivers Casino Des Plains riverboat venue near Chicago’s giant O’Hare International Airport, and Louisville-headquartered Churchill Downs Incorporated, Rush Street Gaming also runs Rivers Casino and Resort Schenectady in New York alongside Pennsylvania’s Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and SugarHouse Casino.

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