Hard Rock Illinois Casino is Backed by Plenty of Local Investors

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Hard Rock International’s effort to bring a casino and live entertainment venue to Rockford, Ill. is drawing investments from some pillars of the community, the list of which was kept confidential until a local newspaper pushed for its release.

Hard Rock’s Illinois casino project is backed by some prominent local citizens. (Image: USA Today)

One of the largest backers of the project is Dan Fischer, the owner of Dotty’s, a chain of slot machine venues that has been in Illinois since 2012. The company started small in Prairie State, installing up to five gaming machines in bars and taverns across the Land of Lincoln, but following the state’s recently passed casino expansion legislation, Dotty’s is looking to push into another 150 locations there.

Other investors in the deal include Karen Nielsen, wife of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen; who was on hand in late August when Hard Rock officially unveiled its bid to bring a gaming property to the Northern Illinois city. At that time, it was not revealed that Nielsen had a financial interest in the project.

There are 53 people or entities that have invested and secured a piece of ownership in 815 Entertainment LLC, a company established to unite Hard Rock International with local investors,” reports The Rockford Register Star.

Other investors include restaurant owners, real estate developers, doctors and former Mayor Charles Box.

The newspaper said it filed a Freedom of Information Act request to view the list of investors and the list was later made public while the Illinois Attorney General’s was reviewing the Star’s petition.

Almost Home Free

When Hard Rock announced its Rockford in late August, two other companies – Wisconsin-based Gorman & Co. and Forest City – were part of the fray, too. About a month later, Mayor Tom McNamara (D) and city workers threw their support behind Hard Rock and two weeks later, the city council voted in favor of making the company’s proposal the one it would send to the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) for approval.

Hard Rock and its investors were slated to send thousands of pages of documents to the IGB on Friday. The company, which operates 11 casinos, expects to spend $311 million on the Rockford project, which will be built near an Interstate 90 (I-90) on-ramp and feature 1,500 slot machines, 55 table games, and an entertainment area with room for 1,600 guests.

Poker will not be offered at the casino, but Hard Rock has mentioned it could expand the gaming area and add a hotel after the venue opens.

On The Down Low

Of the investors committed to the project, only Dr. William Cunningham Jr., a Rockford obstetrician and gynecologist, would go on the record with the Register Star.

Cunningham told the newspaper that he used some of his retirement savings to get involved with the gaming project, but he likes the job creation and other benefits to the community that could come along with the casino.

Hard Rock pledged to generate a minimum of $7 million annually in tax revenue to the city and make contributions to some underdeveloped areas in Rockford. The operator and its investors will be shelling out $300,000 for the application and related background checks, but it is expected that this will be Rockford’s only gaming property, giving Hard Rock a monopoly in the city.

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