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In this Nov. 9, 2020, file photo, people stand in front of electronic slot machines in a casino in Las Vegas. On Thursday, the Illinois Gaming Board gave a preliminary green light to a proposed casino in Rockford.

Wong Maye-E

Illinois Officials Give Preliminary Approval For A Rockford Casino

Plans for a new casino in Rockford got unanimous, preliminary approval from the Illinois Gaming Board on Thursday, despite a state investigation into the point person for Rockford’s bid team.

In announcing his support for the $310 million Rockford plan, the gaming board’s chairman, Charles Schmadeke, said officials were taking a close look at the investors in the project and reserved the right to rule out anybody who could be deemed unsuitable to profit from legalized gambling in Illinois.

“Frankly, I had some questions about some of the former and current relationships of some of the key individuals,” Schmadeke said. “But those are questions. They are not evidence. All of the evidence that I have seen that’s been produced to the gaming board does not show that there are any problems.

“As this matter proceeds, that evidence may or may not develop that some key persons may not have the fitness for this particular project. But we are not there today.”

Without offering any details about the allegedly questionable relationships, Schmadeke said the Rockford bidders should “continue to cooperate with this board to resolve the questions that have arisen.”

Businessman Dan Fischer of Naperville pitched the Rockford plan to the board last week, describing himself as the effort’s “managing member.”

According to court records in Cook County, a gaming board lawyer said officials were investigating the 2018 purchase of a chain of video-gambling parlors by Fischer’s company. The lawyer said that investigation could result in disciplinary action but the board has not yet taken any.

Gaming board officials have declined to comment on the matter, and Fischer’s attorney has said he did nothing wrong.

At Thursday’s meeting, Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter said the Rockford group has promised to remove and buy out any investor found to be not “suitable” to participate in the project.

In addition to Fischer, other investors in the “Hard Rock International” casino include the wife of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen and a former mayor of Rockford.
In 2019, Illinois lawmakers and Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker approved a massive gambling expansion, hoping to generate money for the cash-strapped state government. Those plans call for six new casinos, including Rockford, on top of the 10 casinos operating in Illinois already.

And last year, Rockford officials endorsed the plan that’s now before the gaming board over two competing proposals.

The gaming board’s “preliminary suitability” vote Thursday opens the way for a temporary casino and for construction of the permanent facility in Rockford, at the site of the old Clock Tower Resort, near Interstate 90. But the board has not yet granted the license for the casino.

Schmadeke and other gaming officials said Thursday they were happy with the Rockford team’s efforts to involve minorities in the project.

“I would like to see the benefits distributed throughout the community at all levels,” Schmadeke said. “I’m excited for the city of Rockford.”

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.

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