Local vineyard gambles on casino, resort, water park

A push by Illinois lawmakers to expand gambling across the state could pay off big for communities in southern Illinois.

The owners of Walker’s Bluff Winery, which sits north of Carterville in rural Williamson County, have hired a lobbyist to try and bring a casino to the area despite the fact that they are a little more than an hour from two existing casinos in Metropolis and Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

This proposal is still in the early stages in Springfield, but it does have the support of state Rep. John Bradley, a Democrat.

Bradley’s Republican counterpart, state Rep. Terri Bryant, isn’t sure the area can support it.

The owners of Walker’s Bluff say they are willing to wager a $200 million investment that they can make the project work and the area thrive.

In 2007, Cynde Bunch and her husband planted their roots in Williamson County and began making their dream of Walker’s Bluff a reality.

“What I love about Walker’s Bluff is that it was built by southern Illinois people, and it’s absolutely beautiful. I’m very proud of it,” Bunch said.

Over the years, the winery, restaurant, and general store on the property have become successful, but Bunch says something is missing.

“We’ve looked at January, February, and March in southern Illinois, and without having something else to offer it’s going to be very difficult so we’re developing an indoor water park themed hotel,” Bunch said.

If given the go ahead by the state legislature, an undeveloped area of the property would become an all-inclusive resort including a hotel, convention center, water park, and casino.

Herrin Mayor Steve Frattini says that type of investment is just what this area needs.

“I think any type of development in southern most Illinois is a great idea,” Frattini said. “Anytime it helps propagate new jobs and expands our economy, we applaud and support any endeavors in that direction.”

“When you plant the seed things start to happen around,” Bunch said. “I see the entire area ripe and ready for what we’re about to do next.”

The project is a multi-million dollar gamble that could bring as many as 2,000 jobs to Williamson County. Bunch says it would take about three years to complete construction on it.

If approved, the winery owner plan to use local construction crews, just like they have on their other buildings.

This got us thinking about how popular gambling is in our area.

The Isle Casino in Cape Girardeau has only been open for just under three years, but made more than $45 million in fiscal year 2012. In 2013, it made more than $57 million.

Harrah’s in Metropolis saw a dip in revenue from more than $85 million in 2013 to almost $82 million in 2014. That is a big drop from 2007, when they totaled more than $170 million in earnings.

That has meant less tax revenue for the city of Metropolis. Mayor Bill McDaniel says in fiscal year 2006 the city received $7.9 million from the casino. Between July, 2014, and April of this year that dropped to $3.9 million.

Mayor Harry Rediger of Cape Girardeau could not give us exact numbers. The city does say it received about $3 million from the Isle Casino last year, and Rediger expects that to increase slightly this year.

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