Bills would bring casino to city, provide money for future passenger rail service
ROCKFORD — It will likely be a few years before a casino opens its doors in Rockford, but Mayor Tom McNamara said a series of legislative wins in the Illinois General Assembly make it feel as if Rockford already has hit the jackpot.
During a briefing with reporters on Monday, McNamara said Gov. JB Pritzker would travel to Rockford in the next couple of weeks to sign the gambling expansion bill that will bring a casino to the city, and with it millions in gaming revenue and hundreds of jobs.
“The city of Rockford had a tremendously successful legislative session down in Springfield,” McNamara said, crediting the advocacy work of his administration, the City Council and its lobbyists in addition to the work of the city’s legislative delegation. “We are fortunate to have a number of our local legislators who did really a yeoman’s job of making sure to put Rockford first in a host of areas, especially regarding a casino.”
Here is a look at the legislation awaiting the governor’s signature:
• Casino: Once Pritzker signs the gambling expansion bill, Rockford will have to determine where a casino will be located. The site of the former Clock Tower Resort on East State Street off I-90 is a contender, but McNamara said the city isn’t married to a single location. McNamara said a public process will determine where the casino goes. Gaming tax revenue will be divided among Rockford, which will get 70% of the local share; Winnebago County, 20%; Loves Park, 5%; and Machesney Park, 5%. Rockford expects to earn $6 million to $8 million a year from gaming revenue. Licensing fees and tax revenue could generate as much as $700 million in the first year for the state. Rockford’s casino will be allowed 2,000 gambling positions — slot machines or seats at a gaming table, State Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, said. Chicago’s casino will be allowed twice as many positions.
• Video gaming: As a non-home rule community, Rockford until now has been limited to charging an annual $25 fee per gaming machine at video gaming parlors. Other communities charge as much as $500 a year per machine. A new bill specifically allows Rockford — in agreement with the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association Chapter 59 — to charge $250 a year per machine. The move is expected to increase the annual fee revenue collected by Rockford from roughly $12,000 a year to $120,000 a year.
• Rail: Fueled by the gambling expansion, increased motor fuel taxes and an increase to license plate registration fees, the General Assembly has agreed to a $45 billion multi-year infrastructure improvement plan. Stadelman said that although details must be worked out, the measure includes a line item that sets aside $275 million for passenger rail service from Chicago to Rockford. Stadelman said the precise route remains an unanswered question. Amtrak wants to conduct a new market study before proceeding, he said. But Stadelman also said that passenger rail could be a critical economic development driver and that the line item puts it back on track for the first time in years.
• Airport: Money was approved to repay the Chicago Rockford International Airport $14.7 million for its new aircraft maintenance facility. The airport has been paying about $80,000 a month in interest on private loans since former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration failed to provide the promised funds.
McNamara said a casino is expected to mean hundreds of construction jobs and as many as 1,100 permanent jobs once it opens.
“This is huge,” McNamara said.