Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen Pushing For Rockford Casino, More Jobs

May 15, 2019

Some rock and roll star power showed up in the Illinois Statehouse Wednesday to help push for a new casino. 

Rockford could be the site of a new land casino – that’s if lawmakers can agree on an expansion plan before the end of the legislative session this month. While the issue is not new, there is a stronger push in Springfield because neighbors to the north in Beloit, Wisconsin, will soon have a casino of their own.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Rick Nielsen from the band Cheap Trick is pushing for the plan, saying he wants to use his star power to help bring economic opportunities to his hometown in Rockford.

“The fact that people come to see us from all over the world… I would rather have them come see us for something we’re affiliated with to Illinois,” he said. “I can’t just invite everyone over to my house. I'd like to have a lot of my guitars on display, a lot of my musical instruments.” 

Nielsen said the proposed casino in Rockford could be the perfect place to showcase those guitars. “I have a guitar basically in every Hard Rock in the world, why not have one where we live and not ship one off to someone else?”

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said the timing is right,  even when his city has for decades failed to get a casino license. He said there is a renewed sense of urgency because Beloit is only 15 to 20 minutes away from Rockford. “It (the Beloit casino) would have a devastating impact not just on losing the revenue, but it also has an impact on tourism.”

McNamara and other groups, such as Project First Rate — that works with labor unions in Northern Illinois — said the need for jobs is growing in the area.

Jake Castanza, executive director for Project First Rate, said up to 1,000 construction jobs could be created in Rockford if a green light is given for a casino, and close to 1,000 more jobs to help sustain the casino after it opens. That could help ease the blow from losing close to 1,400 jobs after the nearby Fiat Chrysler assembly plant moved forward with downsizing plans earlier this month, he said. 

“I think this casino will really put an edge, not only on the Rockford community, but in our state line, in which we are fighting outside jobs, outside investments that are trying to take away from our revenues,” Castanza said.

Lawmakers are also looking to legalize sports betting this session, but now some want to group it together with the creation of new casinos — a plan that some stakeholders say is the right approach to raise much-needed revenue for state and local governments. This is a change from the original plan that would have looked at sports wagering and additional casino licenses as separate issues. Some gambling experts say putting too much into one gambling proposal could distract from the complexity of each issue. 

Existing casino owners have pushed against expansion fearing impacts on their bottom line. Instead, they support legalizing sports betting as a new form of gambling and have asked lawmakers to be included in the final sports wagering plan as well.