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Roughly 20 miles apart leaders say dueling casinos have regional economic opportunities

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Map of Hard Rock-Ho chunk Web Pic

ROCKFORD (WREX) — Wisconsin's governor gave his stamp of approval on Wednesday to the Ho-Chunk Nation's Casino in Beloit as Rockfordians still wait for the final approval of the Hard Rock Casino. While some have expressed their frustration the Hard Rock's long approval process, others see the future-dueling casinos as an economic opportunity for the entire region.

Gambling is all about chance, but the odds of two casinos roughly 20 miles apart don't worry some stateline leaders.

"Once we both have casinos up and running, we could somehow partner to create a regional destination," Caitlin Pusateri, the Rockford Chamber's Executive Vice President, says.

Lori Curtis Luther, Beloit's City Manager, says there's no competition between the two cities and their casinos.

"I believe that both can be successful," Luther says. "They're going to be unique destinations and unique locations that provide different amenities and different choices. We're providing options and that's good for both of us."

On Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers approved the $405 million Ho-Chunk Nation Casino in Beloit.

Rockford and Beloit city leaders say there will be enough jobs and entertainment for people on both sides of the stateline.

"We know it's going to bring much needed jobs to this entire region," Luther says.

And that's something Pusateri overwhelmingly agrees with and says it would be "a critical shot in the arm to Rockford's economy, especially after the last year." She says Hard Rock is committed to the community and providing jobs.

"There isn't just one economic driver — one economic impact — it really is going to be a ripple effect throughout the community and we're excited for that because it brings new opportunities," Pusateri says.

Construction could start in Wisconsin by the end of the year, but Rockford is still waiting for its approval from the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB), something that's frustrated local politicians, like Republican Sen. Dave Syverson.

"Every month that we delay is a month that the state and local governments are losing revenue," Syverson says.

In fact, applications for a casino in Rockford were submitted in 2019. A decision was expected in October 2020, but it got pushed back. At the time, the IGB cited COVID-19 and granted itself a six-month-extension.

But Syverson isn't sure why the process is taking so long. He says the board was still working despite the pandemic.

So, we asked the IGB, what's the hold up?

The IGB says it doesn't comment on pending applications. The IGB meets next in late-April and it's not clear if the Hard Rock will be approved then. Because of the April-deadline on the six-month-extension, the IGB must, either make a decision or grant itself another extension.

In the meantime, the Ho-Chunk Nation Casino has a final dye to be cast.

"The federal government [needs] to formally place the land into a trust," Luther explains.

And so, the race for a stateline casino is still on as both sides of the border look toward economic opportunities.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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