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Approval for Rockford casino will likely take longer than original deadline

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — It has been almost a year since Hard Rock International and the City of Rockford submitted plans to build a casino near Interstate 90 and East State Street, and it will likely be even longer until construction can begin.

The reason? The Illinois Gaming Board has not approved the license for the casino proposal.

By law, it has a year to do so and must approve it at a public meeting. The only public meeting before that year deadline of October 28 is on Thursday, and Rockford's casino is not on the agenda. However, the IGB can convene a special meeting to approve a casino license.

Rockford Mayor Tom Mcnamara wants them to do that, and expects them to meet the year deadline.

"We jumped over hurdles for 120 days straight and every department in our city had special consultants in all to meet our deadlines," said Mayor McNamara. "We expect our government partners and the IGB to do the same. We expect them to do their job within the time considerations that they were given. Because we were able to accomplish ours and quite honestly I think we had a much more truncated timeline than they do."

The other option the IGB has is to issue an extension, and give reasons why it needs more than a year to approve the casino application. That is something Mayor McNamara says would be frustrating to see.

"We waited more than twenty years," he said about how long Rockford has discussed building a casino. "Our time has come. We need our partners at the state and IGB to follow through on the timeline that was provided to them."

According to Hard Rock International and the City of Rockford, no notice of an extension has been given, nor has a call for a special meeting.

Lawyers from Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, who represent the city in the casino process, say the IGB has been in contact about the proposal and asking questions.

"There's clearly a lot of work that the staff at the IGB is doing," said Cezar Froelich, from Taft Law. "They've clearly got a tremendous number of applications to process, we can see that work is being done. But, it would appear we are not going to hit the October 28th statutory deadline."

13 WREX reached out to Hard Rock International for an interview and comment, it gave the following statement, “We remain optimistic but have to await approval from the Illinois Gaming Board.”

The Illinois Gaming Board says it does not comment on pending license approvals but did send a statement to 13 WREX that reads,

The Illinois Gambling Act (P.A. 101-31) provides 12 months from the Oct 28, 2019 application submission deadline for the IGB to process, vet, investigate, and make a licensing determination on the submitted casino license applications. If the IGB does not issue the licenses within that time period, the statute requires the IGB to submit a written explanation to the applicant explaining why the IGB has not reached a determination and when it reasonably expects to do so. The IGB does not comment on the status of pending applications, other than to say that it is processing, vetting and investigating the new casino applicant submissions.  Determinations for approval or denial of an owner’s licensee will be made at a Board meeting. The Illinois Gaming Board can call a Special Meeting at any time if needed. If such a meeting is necessary the IGB will make proper notice to the public.

Illinois Gaming Board

Until the casino is approved, no construction can be done and the temporary location at Giovanni's on North Bell School Road cannot happen. Mayor McNamara says, aside from the casino itself, now is the time to get construction underway to get roughly 800 construction jobs and about a thousand full-time jobs at the casino going, especially during COVID-19.

"We're at the same position every Rockfordian is, we're terribly excited to have a casino and we're a little bit anxious to get this process to move forward," added Mayor McNamara.

If the IGB does give an extension notice, or convene a special meeting, it has until October 28 to do so.

James Stratton

James Stratton is the Evening Anchor at 13 WREX and reports for 13 Investigates He joined the team in August, 2018 after working at KWQC TV-6 in Davenport Iowa. His work in Illinois and Iowa has been awarded in both states, along with Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Awards at 13 WREX.

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