Hard Rock Takes First Step Toward Opening Casino in Rockford

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The Illinois Gaming Board gave preliminary approval to a proposed Hard Rock Casino in Rockford on Thursday, the first step required in opening a gaming venue.

In a unanimous 4-0 vote, the board deemed 815 Entertainment — doing business as Hard Rock Casino Rockford — “preliminary suitable,” which allows the investor group to continue working to the end goal of opening what would be the 11th casino in the state of Illinois. Rockford was one of six locations where the state authorized casino licenses in the gaming expansion bill signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in June 2019 and the first to reach this marker.

Though permitted to move forward, IGB Chairman Charles Schmadeke sounded a note of concern prior to the vote. On Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reported the board is investigating Dan Fischer, the lead investor of 815 Entertainment, regarding his expanding of his video poker cafe business. Fischer, who purchased the Stella and Shelby’s chain of cafes in late 2018, sued Gold Rush Gaming to remove their video game terminals from those facilities.

Rich Heidner, who owns Gold Rush Gaming, countersued and alleged Fischer’s move to remove his terminals violated state law. The board is reportedly looking into both the lawsuit and Fischer’s deal for Stella and Shelby’s.

“I have looked at this very carefully,” Schmadeke said. “Frankly, I have some questions about some of the former and current relationships of some of the key individuals. But they are questions, they are not evidence. All of the evidence that I have seen that has been produced to the Gaming Board does not show that there are any problems.

“As this matter proceeds, that evidence may or may not develop that key persons may not have the fitness for the project, but we are not there today.”

Per policy, the IGB does not comment on investigations. 815 Entertainment made its presentation for Hard Rock Casino Rockford at last week’s IGB meeting, claiming it would generate $282 million in annual economic output. The proposed casino would be located at the shuttered Clock Tower Resort, and the iconic Hard Rock Guitar, standing at 110 feet, would be visible to drivers along Interstate 90 in the northern Illinois city.

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Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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