The city of Rockford is ramping up its efforts to land a new casino.
City leaders recently placed a full-page ad in both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, asking Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot to join the fight for legislation to create a number of new licenses around the state.
“We’re not competing for casinos,” said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara. “We should be working together. There are five communities that I believe deserve a casino. Chicago is one of them and Rockford is another. I believe we have a stronger chance to move this forward and finally get the state legislature to act if we work collaboratively.”
Both cities have been included in recent efforts to expand gambling in the state. A bill approved by the Senate in 2017 but not called for a vote in the House, would have permitted the creation of new casinos in Chicago, south suburban Cook County, northern Lake County, Danville, Rockford, and Williamson County.
State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, is a long-time supporter of a gambling expansion bill.
“I have met with the mayor we’re all orchestrated on the same plan,” Syverson said. “We have a short window we have to get this done in the next 30 days or it may be too late for Rockford and for the state budget.”
Advocates for the Rockford casino consider this an urgent matter, as a plan for a large gambling center is moving forward just north of the city near Beloit, Wisconsin.
“How quickly they are moving in the past 12 months has certainly put a renewed sense of urgency behind the citizens of Rockford and the business community,” McNamara said. “As we struggle as a state to find new revenue, I do not know why we’d want to let this opportunity to go forward for Beloit to beat us, so they can continue to siphon more money away from us.”
McNamara said his city, Chicago, and other border communities already are losing gambling dollars across the state border to casinos in Wisconsin and Indiana, so expansion simply makes sense.
“Rockford would be 65 miles away from the closest casino,” McNamara said. “We’re not pulling other people’s funds, we’re not cannibalizing other land-based casinos in Illinois. I think we’d be doing a really good job of playing some defense against Wisconsin.”
Supporters think that push could help spark a compromise.
“I don’t want to see sports gambling without the expansion of land-based casinos,” McNamara said. “That’s why it has to be a larger bill, so that all sides are taken care of. I know there are a number of legislators who will not vote for sports gaming without the expansion of land-based casinos.”
A previous expansion bill that included Rockford and Chicago was vetoed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn in 2012. However, Gov. J.B. Pritzker appears to be supportive of the effort.
“In all my conversations with the Governor, I believe he’s supportive of a Rockford casino,” McNamara said. “Everything is lining up. If the legislature decides that it finally wants to act, we’ll have a signature, I’m hopeful.”