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 — A gambling expansion bill the Illinois General Assembly fell one vote shy Monday to get out of the executive committee.

Walker's Bluff still holding out for gaming license as bill deadlines loom

The measure needs six votes to get it to the full floor. Rep. Bob Rite, D-Blue Island, said on his Facebook page that he’s not going to close the door on the bill and needs to figure out a way to massage it to get out of committee. The committee met again on Tuesday, but the bill didn’t move.

The legislation would add six new casinos, including one in Williamson County at Walker’s Bluff. The bill would also allow more video gambling terminals at the casinos and allow machines in airports. Additionally, it would allow gaming machines and table games at horse racing tracks.

The owner of Walker’s Bluff says that for the Carterville winery, a gambling license is needed in order to transform the facility into a proposed $178 million complex, which would include two hotels; a multi-purpose convention, conference and entertainment center; four new restaurants; a spa; an indoor, year-round water park; and a casino.

Early Tuesday morning, Walker’s Bluff owner Cynde Bunch put out a call on Facebook for residents to fill out a witness slip in support of the legislation. A witness slip is a person or group's position on a particular bill. There were 269 proponents of the bill as of Tuesday afternoon and 129 against.

Walker's Bluff casino supporters make their case in Springfield

Bunch said through her spokeswoman, Emily Burke, that Walker’s Bluff can’t compete with the millions of dollars being funneled into Springfield, so it’s been asking businesses and families in Southern Illinois to help fight.

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“Our representatives, Bryant and Severin are working hard with gaming chairman Rep. Bob Rita to pass this,” Burke wrote in an email. “Our supporters are watching all of this at home, making phone calls and filing witness slips — we are capable of anything together and intend to fight for this.”

For opponents, there were several sticking points in the bill, including higher taxes for video gaming machines, allowing sweepstakes machines, and generally, too much gaming expansion through the state.

Bunch has said the gaming license is crucial for the construction to continue, but the casino portion is not the most important part of the project.

In a 2016 interview with The Southern Illinoisan, Bunch said when the winery started to ask around about what organizations look for when booking conferences, the No. 2 request was gaming.

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“In order to push forward, and compete with surrounding resorts, I have to get the gaming license,” she said in that interview. “That is such a small portion of the entire project … it is so minuscule, but it is the key to get the folks to come.”

An economic impact analysis provided by Walker’s Bluff said construction of the different amenities would provide about 1,100 construction jobs over a four-year period. Then, there would be about 725 jobs available within the complex.

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