By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Inside the future Hard Rock Casino, a grand entryway that executives refer to as “the yellow brick road” is starting to take shape.

It starts just inside the main entrance after you walk past the future 90-foot replica of Rick Nielsen’s checkerboard guitar that greets visitors outside.

Hard Rock’s not a big chandelier kind of place place. We always do a feature guitar kind of light fixture down yellow brick road,” said Geno Iafrate, president of Hard Rock Casino Rockford. “It takes you right to the center bar, and there’s always a signature piece of memorabilia right at the end of yellow brick road.”

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Hard Rock hasn’t revealed what the memorabilia will be for its Rockford location, but you can probably make a few educated guesses given its partnership with Nielsen, an investor in the casino and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Cheap Trick.

Hard Rock gave a behind-the-scenes tour to members of the media on Tuesday to show off progress on the 180,000-square-foot casino and entertainment venue. It’s being built at 7801 E. State St., which is near the State Street exit at Interstate 90 where the Clock Tower Resort stood for roughly 50 years before being razed in 2018.

Construction is on track for the casino to open by Labor Day weekend.

“We’re pleased with the progress that we’ve made,” said Wendy Alsteen, vice president of finance for Hard Rock Casino. “So far, every week when I come in here there’s something different to see and more progress made.”

Hard Rock hasn’t yet announced an exact date for opening, but that should come in a few months. Iafrate said that they expect to put tickets on sale in May for some of the first live acts coming to Hard Rock Rockford. That’s when an official opening date will likely be announced.

“You associate this with being a casino … but we’re so much more than that,” Iafrate said. “You’re going to see live entertainment in our concert venue Hard Rock Live. You’re going to see live entertainment on stage at Hard Rock Cafe, which we really want to hone in on and focus on local, regional acts to focus on the talent in the music industry here in the Rockford region and put those guys on stage.”

Iafrate said there are already a dozen banquets booked between September and the end of the  year, and there are 14 different ticketed entertainment events in various phases of negotiation. Hard Rock has not yet announced any of its initial entertainment lineup

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The 13,000-square-foot entertainment venue connected to the casino has retractable seating for 1,600 for concerts and other performances. It has a capacity for 2,000 without seats and can seat about 800 with tables for banquet space.

That space could also host large scale poker tournaments, Iafrate said. On a daily basis, poker will be played in a six-table poker room on the west end of the building.

The 65,000 square feet of casino space will be blanketed with 1,300 slot machines and 44 live table games. There is a also a sports book with four-tiered seating to watch games while eating or having a drink from the cafe.

The Hard Rock Live entertainment venue will be home to big acts, while Iafrate said the stage at the Hard Rock Cafe will focus on local and regional talent. Inside the Council Oak steakhouse is another stage, which will have musical performances with a jazz and blues vibe, he said.

There will also be a food hall with YouYu Noodle Bar, Brick’d Oven Pizza, Constant Grind bistro and coffee shop, and a taco concept that has yet to be named. You will be able to buy your Hard Rock merchandise at the Rock Shop and Unity Store.

“It’s way more than just a casino,” Iafrate said.

Construction crews work inside the future Hard Rock Casino on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, in Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

Hard Rock said the project is expected to create about 1,200 construction jobs. They are now recruiting to hire an 400 more employees to work at the casino. That’s in addition to the roughly 350 that already work at the interim casino site at 610 N. Bell School Road, which was the former Giovanni’s Restaurant and Convention Center.

More than 1.25 million guests have visited the interim casino so far. It has welcomed visitors from all 50 states and 28 countries, according to Hard Rock.

“We believe that Hard Rock Casino Rockford will be a cornerstone development not just for Rockford but for the entire region,” Iafrate said. “We are excited to showcase Hard Rock’ world-class gaming, dining and entertainment offerings to guests from all corners of the globe.”

Hard Rock Casino Rockford President Geno Iafrate gives a tour on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, of the future 180,000-square-foot casino. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas


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