By Jim Hagerty
SPRINGFIELD – Rockford was approved for a casino Sunday after the Illinois Senate approved a $39.9 billion budget.
Led by Rockford Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, the city has been stumping for a casino for more than a decade but was continuously passed over.
“My gaming bill adding Rockford as a site for a new casino passed this afternoon during a rare Sunday legislative session,” Syverson said. “The governor came to the Senate floor to congratulate and promise a quick signing. This will mean a lot of jobs and a lot of revenue for the area. Thanks also to Sen. Steve Stadelman, one of the cosponsors of the legislation.”
Syverson said Illinois lost $1.5 billion in gambling revenue last year to casinos in five surrounding states. He said one in Rockford will keep millions here and provide relief for taxpayers.
“This will help keep our dollars home and bring dollars to our community,” he said. “It will create hundreds of good paying jobs with benefits and will generate millions of dollars in revenue which we hope will lead to controlling property taxes.”
Joining Rockford with green lights for casinos are Carterville, Chicago, Danville, Lake County and southern Cook County. Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the gambling bill within the next 10 days.
Talks about a Rockford casino have been largely tentative recently, however, they took some footing in 2017 when Ringland-Johnson Construction CEO Brent Johnson announced he was part of an investment group that planned to buy the Clock Tower, tear it down and build a casino if Rockford was approved for a license. The Clock Tower has been demolished but the plan was quieted when Rockford didn’t get the nod. There were also rumblings the Forest City may get the go-ahead for riverboat gambling before talks shifted back toward a land-based facility.
Stadelman, D-Rockford, praised the budget package, noting that Rockford stands to benefit from more than gambling. There’s $275 million for passenger rail service to Rockford, something he’s been championing since the former journalist was elected to Springfield. He continued the push after ex-Gov. Bruce Rauner pulled the plug on a major Amtrak expansion announced in 2014 under his predecessor Pat Quinn.
“I think this budget is another step in the right direction of creating a fiscally stable Illinois,” Stadelman said. “Additionally, the jobs and revenue created by a casino will not only help keep that budget stable but will see some much-needed growth come to Rockford.”
The vote on the gambling bill was 46-10. Both senators voted for it.