While most officials in the Wisconsin side of the state line greeting Wednesday’s announcement about the Ho-Chunk casino in Beloit as a positive development, some on the Illinois side of the state line are taking a wait and see attitude.
Part of the skepticism has to do with the many small electronic gaming facilities in northern Illinois, which generate thousands of dollars in revenue for communities.
Tom Fitzgerald, commissioner of finance on the South Beloit City Council, said South Beloit receives about $100,000 a year from the small businesses that offer electronic poker and slot machines.
Fitzgerald believes the Beloit casino will eventually have an impact on the small gaming businesses in South Beloit.
“I imagine it will. There are only so many people who are going to gamble in the first place, so there will probably be a decline at some places,” he said.
He added if the Rockford casino project, planned for the former site of the Clock Tower Inn receives final approval, that will have an impact on the small shops as well.
The village of Rockton received $41,735 from its video, poker and slot machine businesses in the previous 12 month period, according to information from the village.
When asked if she was concerned the casinos in Beloit and Rockford would have a big impact on the village, Rockton Planning and Development Administrator Patricia Diduch said she doesn’t expect it to.
She said the existing video poker establishments are a destination for the people who go there and they enjoy the downtown experience and sometimes stopping at other businesses as well.
“I’m cautiously optimistic we won’t see a truly negative impact,” Diduch said.
Roscoe receives 5% of the net terminal income from video, poker and slot machine businesses, according to Roscoe Village Administrator Scott Sanders.
In 2018, Roscoe received $379,000; and in 2019 it received $370,000.
Last year with the shutdowns of a total of four-and-a-half months in 2020 it dropped down to $247,000.
“I think there might be a temporary decline for the curiosity factor of people wanting to check out a new casino. Long term it will stabilize,” Sanders said. “Some prefer the smaller and more private setting of small parlors. I’m fairly certain it will probably come back to consistent levels after an initial period of decline. People are creatures of habit, have favorite places and machines and by and large it will level out.”
Meanwhile, Rockford still is pursuing the Hard Rock resort casino project at the former site of the Clock Tower Inn near Interstate 90. The Illinois Gaming Board gave preliminary approval for the casino project, but it has not yet been granted a gaming license from the state.
Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, has been opposed to the Beloit casino project for years, saying it would be detrimental to efforts to plans for a casino in Rockford. He expressed frustration that Illinois has not granted a gaming license to the Rockford casino yet.
“We passed historic gaming expansion back in 2019 and we are well into 2021, yet the State still has not given final approval for Rockford to move forward with the Hard Rock Casino,” Syverson said in a statement posted on his website.
“I know that we will eventually get the Rockford-based casino up and running, and when we do, it will be a game changer for our community,” he continued. “But it is frustrating to watch as another state takes substantive strides toward building a casino while Rockford is held stagnant. This delay will cost local government and the State of Illinois millions in lost revenue that we will never recoup.”
Meanwhile, some local business owners in northern Illinois are feeling optimistic about the prospect of a casino opening nearby in Beloit.
Rina Lindstrom, owner of Pokie’s Slots—N—Video Poker in Rockton, said she has a good feeling that more overall traffic will mean more people visiting various businesses for electronic gaming.
“More traffic means more revenue. You’ve got to look at something as positive,” Lindstrom said. “Anything to bring more people in is going to be a good thing.”
Beth Larsen, co-owner of Artisan Pub in South Beloit, also looks forward to seeing a casino open in Beloit.
“I think it’ll bring more people into our establishment by filling up more of the hotels around and by getting more people coming in through the area,” Larsen said. “Your heavy duty gamblers will be going to the casinos, but people who want to spend a night or two are going to visit the local community.”
BDN Staff Writers Brad Allen, Hillary Gavan and Clint Wolf contributed to this story.