Walker's Bluff casino plan

A sign outside of Walker's Bluff Winery shows a rendering of what an entertainment and lodging resort, including a casino, may look like. Legislation approved by the Senate Sunday will allow a gambling expansion in the state, and includes a license for a casino in Williamson County.

CARTERVILLE — Cynde Bunch, co-owner of Walker's Bluff, is a lady-in-waiting. On Saturday, the Illinois Senate sent a gaming expansion bill, SB 609, to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker where it awaits his signature.

The bill authorizes construction of six new casinos in Illinois, including one at Walker’s Bluff in rural Carterville. The bill passed the Illinois House on Friday and cleared the Senate Sunday. 

A news release from Illinois Sen. Dale Fowler said the bill gives Bunch the gaming license needed to move forward with an on-site casino and resort project — something she has been planning for at least four years. According to Fowler's news release, the project is expected to generate:

  • 1,250 construction jobs;
  • 726 permanent jobs;
  • $15 million in local annual revenue;
  • $34 million in local employment; and
  • $42 million in labor income.

Bunch told The Southern in November that plans for the project, called The Resort at Walker’s Bluff, include two hotels, a year-round water park, an entertainment venue and convention center, restaurants, spa and a casino. The project is expected to cost more than $143 million.

Pritzker has said he would sign the bill if it came to his desk.

Bunch has been trying to get state approval for a casino license since at least 2015. She and some of her supporters have traveled to Springfield several times since then to advocate for the gaming expansion.

A statement emailed Monday from Walker's Bluff spokeswoman Emily Burke says the resort's next steps will be announced after the governor signs the bill. 

"Thank you to all of you who worked so tirelessly to support our cause over the past few years ... you never gave up on Southern Illinois," the statement reads.

She told The Southern in 2016 that her winery, when looking to expand into a resort that would attract tourists and corporate events, researched what organizations look for when booking conferences. The No. 2 request was gambling.

“This expansion package recognizes the potential of Walkers Bluff and will be a game changer for Southern Illinois,” Fowler said in the press release. “Walkers Bluff will be a major tourism destination in the region, bringing in thousands of visitors, creating real opportunities within our communities and generating critical revenue for the district.”

State Rep. Dave Severin also released a statement Saturday on this bill and others passed out of the House Friday and Saturday, including a capital bill to fund infrastructure projects around the state.

“I have said this over and over, we need more taxpayers, not more taxes,” Severin said. “Well, this infrastructure package uses a pay as you use it system for long term maintenance of Illinois’ roads and highways. We secured a major win with Walker’s Bluff’s expansion project being included, and we have secured critical reforms to our business climate. All of these actions are going to result in people having good paying jobs. … In other words, we are creating more taxpayers with this capital infrastructure plan.”

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