Approximately $178 million would be invested back into Southern Illinois if Walker’s Bluff in Carterville is transformed from a winery and restaurant to an entertainment and lodging complex. Cynde Bunch has a plan that she hopes will come to fruition.
Bunch refers to the facility as a destination resort complex, which would include a 300-room hotel, four new restaurants, an indoor water park, a multi-purpose convention, conference and entertainment center, and a casino. There is only one problem; the partner at Walker’s Bluff needs a gaming license to build a casino.
According to Bunch, when the winery began researching what organizations seek out when booking conferences in locations, number two on the list was gaming. That is why a casino is part of the proposed complex at Walker’s Bluff. Bunch told the southern Business Journal that in order to compete with surrounding resorts she needs to obtain the gaming license. She said that while the license is a small part of the entire project, it is the key to attracting business.
A plan that would bring central and Southern Illinois smaller satellite casinos as well as a casino for Chicago was provided in legislation proposed in spring 2015. While a critical piece to moving forward with construction, the gaming license is not the most important part of the project, according to Bunch. Approximately 1,100 construction jobs would be provided by the construction of the various amenities, according to an economic impact analysis provided by Walker’s Bluff. Once the project is completed, about 725 jobs would be available within the complex.
While she was going to wait until the legislation worked itself out in the state’s capitol, she decided not to remain quiet when she received word that lawmakers in Paducah were working on legislation of their own that would allow casinos in Kentucky and that Paducah was pushing for a gambling hall close to its convention center. Currently, gambling laws in Kentucky allow for lottery, charitable gambling and pari-mutuel betting on horse races. A public information officer with the city of Paducah, Pam Spencer, said she wasn’t aware of any efforts to place a referendum on the November ballot or any plans to bring a casino to the city.
There are state lawmakers in Southern Illinois who say they are willing to support Walker’s Bluff, however, they declined to comment on whether they would vote for gaming expansion in the state. While some like Senator Gary Forby, D-Benton, say the winery’s plans are worth taking a look at, gambling shouldn’t be relied upon to fix the state’s financial woes.
Walker’s Bluff Winery is owned by David and Cynde Bunch. It was created in 2008 and completed in 2012. Currently, Walker’s Bluff includes, an entertainment operation, a fine dining establishment, a general store, tasting room and Wine Cave.