This Friday, Southern Illinois celebrated the opening of the state’s 14th casino on a rural estate just outside of Carterville. The event was attended by hundreds of people, as well as Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Walker’s Bluff Casino is the fourth gambling venue to open in recent years, following the 2019 gambling expansion law, which Pritzker supported during his first term.
The casino resort promises to provide every casino fan with a world-class experience thanks to the 650 slot machines and table games it hosts. Besides, it offers various non-gaming amenities, such as excellent dining establishments, a full-service spa, luxurious accommodations, and a 1,200-seat event center. The new gambling venue is expected to provide employment opportunities for approximately 300 people.
Gov. Pritzker said that the casino resort would contribute to the economic development of the area and the state. He announced that Walker’s Bluff Casino represents what he had envisioned when he proposed the gambling expansion bill several years ago.
Overview of the 2019 Illinois Gambling Expansion
The 2019 law introduced amendments to the Illinois Gambling Act, authorizing six new casinos, including one in Carterville, to open. The legislation also gave the green light to the establishment of four racinos (racetracks at which casino games are available), along with the expansion of online and retail sports betting and video gambling.
The 2019 expansion is the most significant gambling reform since 1990 when the state legalized riverboat gambling. The operators of tracks in Collinsville in the Metro East and Cicero near Chicago received preliminary approvals to add casino games but are yet to do so.
Part of the funds generated from the gambling expansion were earmarked for the Rebuild Illinois initiative, which supports the modernization of the state’s infrastructure. Increases in the motor fuel tax and licensing fees are also used to support the program.
Under the amended Illinois Gambling Act, each casino must make one-time contributions to the Rebuild Illinois fund within 30 days of their opening. The Illinois Gaming Board has announced that Walker’s Bluff Casino Resort must contribute $25.3 million to the Rebuild Illinois fund. Pritzker has announced that the Rebuild Illinois initiative has already funded numerous projects throughout Southern Illinois.
Which Casinos Have Recently Opened in Illinois and What is Their Impact on the State’s Economy?
The $147-million venture in Southern Illinois has been in the making for years, prompted by Cynde Bunch and her late husband David. The couple opened an exclusive restaurant and general store in 2008 on land that had been in Cynde’s family for generations. Elite Casino Resort is the majority owner of Walker’s Bluff Casino Resort, while Ms. Bunch is the partial owner.
The opening of the casino resort in Carterville follows the launch of several other casinos, including the Hard Rock Casino in Rockford in November 2021 and the American Place Casino in Waukegan in February 2022, which opened in temporary facilities. This June, the Golden Nugget in Central Illinois’ Danville also opened its doors.
The state’s brick-and-mortar casinos are already attracting visitors. Data from the Illinois Gaming Board revealed that around 150,000 people visited the three casinos last month alone, contributing to tax revenues of over $38 million in July. Of this amount, $30.7 million was designated for the state and $7.6 million was distributed among local governments.
There are two more casinos in the pipeline, with the $1.7-billion Bally’s development in Chicago’s River West being the most anticipated of all. The Rhode Island-based company operates more than a dozen casinos in the country. Bally’s is to open a temporary gambling facility in the Medinah Temple in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, which will operate until its temporary gambling facility is ready to open. The sixth casino is expected to open in 2025 in the south suburban Chicago villages of Homewood and East Hazel Crest.