Illinois: Walker’s Bluff Casino holds ribbon-cutting ceremony with Gov. Pritzker

The new Walker’s Bluff Casino and Resort in southern Illinois officially opened its doors on Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Casino officials, local leaders, and Illinois Governor JB Pritzker cut the ribbon on the $147 million casino resort shortly before 12 p.m. The new facility is the state’s 14th casino on a rural estate, just outside of Carterville.

Walker’s Bluff Casino and Resort is the fourth casino to open in recent years that was authorized by a 2019 gambling expansion law that was a centerpiece of Pritzker’s first term. It features a 116-room hotel, a gaming floor with 650 slot machines and 20 live table games, a hotel, restaurants, a full-service spa, and a 1,200-seat event center. The casino and resort are expected to employ approximately 330 to 400 people.

Furthermore, the Egyptian Electric Cooperative Association (EECA) has also installed 11 Level 2 electric vehicle chargers, which can accommodate 22 cars simultaneously. EECA said their chargers are part of the chargeEV network. Users can charge $2 for the first four hours and $4 for each subsequent hour. 

“Hospitality, jobs, economic development – that is what today’s announcement represents,” Pritzker said on Friday, as reported by The State Journal-Register. “When I proposed that we pass a casino gaming bill a few years ago, this is what I had envisioned.”

The $147 million project in southern Illinois has been in the making for years, an effort spurred by Cynde Bunch and her late husband David, who opened an upscale restaurant and general store by the same name in 2008 on land that had been in Cynde’s family for generations. Elite Casino and Resorts is the majority owner and operator of the casino and resort, although Cynde is a partial owner as well.

The ribbon-cutting on Friday follows the openings of the Hard Rock Casino in Rockford in November 2021 and the American Place Casino in Waukegan in February this year, both in upstate Illinois, as well as the Golden Nugget in central Illinois’ Danville in May. The Rockford and Waukegan casinos opened in temporary facilities.   

The state’s land-based casinos are already attracting visitors. Last month, just shy of 150,000 people visited the three casinos, representing 15.6% of all visitors to the state’s 13 casinos, according to data from the Illinois Gaming Board. In July, casinos allocated $38.3 million for taxes on admissions and gambling, with $30.7 million set aside for the state and $7.6 million for local governments. 

There are two more land-based casinos set to open in the coming years. The most high-profile development is the $1.7 billion Bally’s casino in Chicago’s River West neighborhood.

Ahead of the resort’s opening, Bally’s is set to open a temporary operation in the Medinah Temple in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. The state’s gaming board has preliminarily deemed it suitable and is expected to conduct inspections in the first week of September, meaning the temporary casino could be open as early as the following week. The sixth casino is slated to open in 2025 in the south suburban Chicago villages of Homewood and East Hazel Crest near the Indiana border.

Gov. JB Pritzker

The 2019 law amending the Illinois Gambling Act authorizing six new casinos represented the largest expansion of casino operations in Illinois in decades. It authorized the Illinois Gaming Board to issue up to 10 new casino permits, also including four racinos, doubling the number of potential licensees.

The recent expansion of gambling is the first major change to Illinois’ casino industry since 1990 when the Illinois legislature legalized riverboat gambling. That original law only authorized riverboat casinos. For years, they were required to traverse the waterways during gambling sessions. A change in law in 1999 allowed the riverboats to remain docked and most of them eventually stopped setting sail.