By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
Get our Newsletter
ROCKFORD — The city waited decades for the chance to welcome its own casino. It won’t have to wait much longer before games can begin.
Hard Rock Casino Rockford transformed the former Giovanni’s Restaurant and Convention Center into the grounds for its interim casino in a matter of about 100 days after receiving approval from the state gaming board, said Geno Iafrate, president and CEO of Hard Rock Rockford.
“I haven’t checked, but that might be a record,” Iafrate said. “It’s a very accelerated timeline. There are always road bumps, but it has gone as smoothly as I have seen a project standup in my 20 years in this business.”
There are still a few more steps before the debut of A Hard Rock Opening Act, the name for the temporary casino that will host gaming until the permanent resort is built on the former Clock Tower grounds. The goal is to open the interim facility in early November and the full resort in about two years.
“Now, it’s a process: We have to work with our regulators. We have to work through the steps in that process,” Iafrate said. “We’re diligently working those steps.”
Hard Rock on Thursday provided reporters with a preview look at the temporary casino as it moves closer to an opening date to be determined.
“Stay tuned,” Iafrate said. “We’ll be making an announcement as soon as we can.”
Hard Rock’s opening is the culmination of decades of work from generations of community leaders to bring a casino here. Mayor Tom McNamara said he can remember hearing discussions about the push for a casino as a child.
“I remember sitting down at the kitchen table getting ready for school and seeing newspaper articles that the community is coming together because they wanted a casino,” McNamara said.
Now, he said, the city can be proud of its partnership with an international brand with local investors on a casino that will have a far-reaching economic impact. It will also bolster education in the city, he said, with $1.5 million annually of casino revenue being committed to Rockford Promise, a nonprofit that offers full college tuition scholarships to qualified Rockford Public Schools students.
“When you enter into these long-term partnerships there is a lot of trust that needs to be built, and every single step along the way Hard Rock has not only delivered but they’ve exceeded,” McNamara said. “Every Rockfordian when they walk through these doors will know that Hard Rock, again, exceeded those expectations and will be a great long-term partner with the city of Rockford.”
The interim casino has approximately 635 slots and electronic table games. There will not be live dealers at the temporary facility, but live games will happen at the permanent location when it opens. Both the temporary and permanent casino will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Aside from the gambling, A Hard Rock Opening Act has two restaurants: Midway Bar and Rock River Bar and Grill, the later which is the more upscale casual dining option.
“The word temporary really is not a good descriptor,” said Wendy Kasche, the casino’s vice president of finance. “It’s just beautiful, it’s gorgeous. It’s come together so quickly and it’s been a very smooth process.”