Patiently Waiting: Hard Rock Casino Making Steady Progress

Though there’s not yet an opening date, excitement is building for Rockford’s first casino, even as its “Opening Act” continues to grow.

The Hard Rock Casino in Rockford is taking shape, and although opening day is still to be announced, it should arrive in the next 18 months, says casino president Geno Iafrate.

Motorists who pass the Hard Rock Casino construction site just off East State Street and Interstate 90 probably daydream about hitting it big, hearing those unmistakable jingles from the slot machines or walking out with a fatter wallet.

Casino president Geno Iafrate says the good times are coming.

“If you’re waiting, stay tuned,” he says. “It’s going to be exciting.”

Construction on the roughly 180,000-square-foot casino, located where the Clock Tower Resort once stood, is progressing, Iafrate says, and despite a few snags along the way construction crews are on site six days a week making those daydreams come true. The sprawling casino will feature dozens of table games, a sportsbook, multiple dining options, a Hard Rock Live entertainment venue and, eventually, a hotel.

And although Iafrate didn’t formally say when the project would be completed, or if it’s on schedule, pending final approval from the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB), simple math dictates when the casino could potentially open, based on regulations set by the IGB.

“We opened the Opening Act in November 2021, so we either have to be done and open by this November, or if we’re granted an extension, we absolutely have to be opened by November 2024,” he says.

The project has hit a few hiccups along the way, including supply chain disruptions as a result of the pandemic and inflation, which has “significantly” increased the cost of the project, Iafrate says.

“We’ve had inflationary pressures, supply chain pressures, general economic malaise. And, financial markets tightened up a bit, too,” he says. “All those things created not necessarily delays, but they forced a lot of additional work.”

A mild winter helped offset some of those issues. Iafrate says workers were on site the majority of the winter months, with work coming to a halt less than 10 times.

A temporary casino on Bell School Road in Rockford now features table games including blackjack and poker.

“The winter certainty cooperated,” he says. “Crews worked extended hours, so we’re moving as fast as possible.”

While the region patiently waits on the casino’s completion, guests can enjoy the ever-expanding Opening Act, a temporary casino at 610 N. Bell School Road. In addition to 37,000 square feet of gaming space and 635 of the latest slots, gamblers can now play Live Blackjack, Three-Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em. There are plans in place to roll out Mini Baccarat and Mississippi Stud later this month. Craps and roulette tables will be ready by the end of the summer and, if all goes well, there’s a chance a sportsbook could be in place this fall.

“We’re still working with the IGB to obtain a sport betting license,” Iafrate says. “We’re hopeful to have sports betting up and operational by the end of this year.”

The Opening Act is also home to two restaurants, Rock River Bar & Grill – a casual restaurant that features USDA Prime steak – and Midway Bar, a sports-themed establishment that serves as a headquarters for sports fans.

There’s plenty of excitement and anticipation building for the Hard Rock Casino, but in the meantime, the Opening Act gives visitors a sample of what’s ahead.

“We’re not just sitting at the Opening Act waiting for the big joint to open,” Iafrate says. “We’re working every day to make the Opening Act better and better.”