ROCKFORD (WREX) — A roughly $400 million project to bring an Indian Ho-chunk casino to Beloit keeps moving forward toward becoming a reality.
But at the same time, a proposal to bring a casino to Rockford just off of I-90 and East State Street is at a standstill.
“I get the luxury of saying I told you so, but that doesn’t solve the problem,” Sen. Dave Syverson says.
Tuesday night, the Bureau of Indian Affairs held its public hearing to get public feedback about the Ho-Chunk Nation’s plan to develop a hotel, water park and casino in Beloit. Part of that project means more than 1,000 jobs could come to the area. Many of the people the city of Beloit and Ho-Chunk Nation say they want to see in those positions are from Winnebago County.
“We recognize that the city of Beloit alone, would not be able to fill all of those jobs nor would the Ho-Chunk Nation be able to fill all of those jobs themselves,” Lori Curtis Luther, the city manager of Beloit says.
On top of those jobs leaving Illinois, local Democrats and Republicans say they’re afraid your entertainment dollar will go too. They say that could have a devastating impact on attractions in the Stateline such as the Coronado and Magic Waters.
“Last year, about $1.5 billion in entertainment money left Illinois just to go to the borders of these states,” Syverson says.
“That’s not a good thing,” Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford says. “That’s potentially a lot of money that could be spent across state border into beloit instead of the Rockford area and being spent on schools and roads here.”
Right now, lawmakers have a gaming bill that would bring a casino to Rockford. That bill passed the Senate, but never came up for a vote in the House of Representatives. Stadelman, who is the chairman of the Gaming Committee, says he thinks there’s a chance the Illinois legislature will pass a gaming expansion bill because sports betting is now part of the conversation.
“Everybody wants a piece of sports betting,” Stadelman says. “Casinos would like it, the race tracks would like it, it’s another revenue source for the state. I think you get more people to the table, more willing to reach a compromise and negotiate an agreement that would allow for an expansion of gaming.”
Lawmakers say as this casino in Beloit keeps moving forward, there’s a chance a casino in Rockford wouldn’t be able to bring as much revenue. That’s because lawmakers say Indian casinos do not pay as many taxes and can offer entertainment at a much lower price.
Syverson says the Rockford casino was expected to bring in roughly $7 million per year. Now, he think it would only bring in about half that amount.
“You’re going to lose a lot of hotel tax because you’re going to lose a lot of people who will be staying in Beloit versus before staying in Rockford,” Syverson says. “They’re not staying in Rockford, they’re not paying the hotel tax and you would have revenue lost from hotels, you’d have revenue lost from the water park and you’d have other entertainment dollars lost.”
Some of the people who commented tonight did share concerns about the casino, including worries about gambling addictions. However, most of the comments were supportive of the development.