Hard Rock’s Casino in Rockford Set to Open on August 29, Plans for Illinois Online Sportsbook Still Unclear

Hard Rock International has revealed August 29 as the official opening date for its permanent casino in Rockford, Illinois. The property will open for business at about 3 p.m. that day, replacing Hard Rock’s temporary casino. Branded as Hard Rock: An Opening Act, the temporary property will continue 24/7 operations until then.

The features of the 175,000 sq. ft permanent location will include:

  • 1,300 slots
  • 44 table games
  • Six-table poker room
  • Sportsbook
  • Six restaurants
  • 2,000-capacity entertainment revenue
  • Rock Shop with branded merchandise

Jon Lucas, Chief Operating Officer at Hard Rock International, thanked the Rockford community and Illinois for welcoming the brand and added,

The economic impact of this casino will provide hundreds of new jobs and boost the entertainment options for anyone living near or visiting Rockford. We are thrilled to welcome this new property to our global portfolio of over 300 Hard Rock venues.

The company is looking to hire 400 additional staff for its permanent location. Available positions include dealers, hospitality workers, casino floor supervisors, and more. While many positions remain available, Hard Rock has already completed recruitment for critical roles, including hiring Mark Johnson as its Director of Gaming Operations.

Two Hard Rock Openings in 2024

Though the Rockford casino is set to open soon, the company has pushed back the opening of another casino in Bristol, Virginia. The casino announced last week that it had successfully petitioned to push back its July opening deadline, which had been mandated by state regulations. It subsequently clarified that this wasn’t a delay so much as a synchronized grand opening. It had originally planned an incremental roll-out, but the six-month extension will allow it to launch the property with all features in place.

While Hard Rock didn’t commit to a specific launch date, the new deadline requires it to be open for business by January 2025 at the latest. More likely, it will aim for late 2024.

Virginia is new to the casino industry. In 2020, lawmakers approved five casinos but only awarded four licenses, including Hard Rock’s. The operator was the first to open a temporary casino in the state in July 2022, forcing the company to rush its permanent location construction to meet regulations.

Could Hard Rock Bet Launch in Illinois?

The Rockford permanent casino will feature a sportsbook, and many wonder when or if the company’s online sportsbook, Hard Rock Bet, will launch in Illinois. Last July, the state’s Gaming Control Board approved a retail sportsbook license for the Rockford casino. The regulator also approved the company’s interactive division, Hard Rock Digital, as a sports wagering management service provider. At that point, an online launch seemed to be only a few months away.

However, to begin taking bets in Illinois over the Internet, Hard Rock Bet must complete additional licensing steps and pay a $10 million licensing fee. That cost may be the reason for the hesitation, especially as many sports betting operators have struggled to profit in the competitive US market.

As the Rockford casino is in its final stretch and has an opening date, Hard Rock has remained mum on the topic of launching its online product in the state. Though the licensing fee is hefty, Illinois is one of the top sports betting markets in revenue, having surpassed $1 billion in 2023. The only states with a higher total were  New York, with a substantially larger population, and New Jersey, the most mature online gambling market in the country.

The Land of Lincoln would be the Hard Rock Bet’s eighth market, most of which it has launched in very recently. Its sportsbook is available in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia. It operated in Iowa, too, but it shut down due to the change of ownership of its retail partner. Meanwhile, Hard Rock’s online casino is available only in New Jersey. However, that could change, as a Michigan launch seems likely due to its acquisition of 888’s US assets.

Online Prospects Dimmer for Illinois

Hard Rock got the nod for its Rockford Casino in 2019 when enthusiasm for online casinos and sports betting was at a maximum. In fact, it received its approval one month after Illinois legislators passed the bill legalizing sports betting in the state. Direct market access for online gambling may have factored into its decision to build in Illinois.

At that time, Illinois also seemed like a top contender for online casino expansion due to factors like the established retail casino industry, business-friendly policies, and liberal-leaning politics. The state’s high population and median income made it an appealing market, on par with Pennsylvania.

However, these hopes have cooled. Proposals for iGaming expansion have seen little movement and have been unable to move past committees. Reasons for the lack of progress include resistance from the retail casino industry, a common theme in other states, and labor unions fearing the loss of jobs. In addition, Illinois is strongly influenced by the video gaming terminal (VGT) industry.

VGTs resemble slot machines and are simple in design. They’re available in over 8,200 locations across the state, including restaurants, bars, and truck stops. Small business owners who heavily depend on VGTs and some lawmakers fear cannibalization by iGaming, especially as VGT revenue is shrinking in some areas.

Another iGaming obstacle could be the recent sports betting tax hike, which could sour the relationship between lawmakers and the largest online operators, like DraftKings and FanDuel. These are the companies most affected by the new progressive tax scale and are also the driving force behind iGaming expansion. Opinions on this point vary, however, as Matt Kredell at PlayUSA has argued the opposite—that the higher tax rate may prove to be more of a boon than a hindrance.

About the Author

Chav Vasilev

Chav Vasilev

After years of managing fast-casual restaurants, Chav turned his passion for sports and occasional slot wins into a career as an iGaming writer. Sharing his time between Europe and the US, he has been exposed to betting and gambling for years and has closely followed the growth in the US. Chav is a proponent of playing responsibly and playing only at legal online sites. When not writing, you will find him watching and betting on sports, especially soccer, or trying to land the next big bonus on a slot.
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