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Walker's Bluff owner: Casino agreement signed by county board needs to be redone

  • This updated rendering shows the Walker's Bluff Casino Resort project, now slated to begin construction on Oct. 1.

    This updated rendering shows the Walker's Bluff Casino Resort project, now slated to begin construction on Oct. 1.
    SILMG file photo

 
By Holly Kee
hkee@localsouthernnews.com
updated: 9/6/2021 10:40 AM

The owner of Walker's Bluff Winery in Carterville says that the casino agreement signed by the Williamson County Board on Monday contained language she had never agreed to; and both sides have agreed a new agreement will be signed Friday.

Once a mutually-agreeable document is signed, it will be forwarded to the Illinois Gaming Board, where Walker's Bluff owner Cynde Bunch has a meeting scheduled on Sept. 9.

Bunch said she got a copy of the Host Community Agreement on Tuesday. Walker's Bluff, currently a restaurant and winery, and where a $180 million casino and resort is proposed, is in unincorporated Williamson County, making the county its host community.

The county board signed the agreement on Monday and forwarded Bunch a copy the next day.

Bunch said the HCA the county board signed was not the one approved by her. The signed agreement contained changes to the language that Bunch claimed she had never seen, and most troubling was the location description for the casino that seemed to indicate the casino could be built wherever the county board wanted.

The location language says the casino will be, " ... located at 14120 Meridian Road, Cambria, or such other location as mutually agreed upon in writing by the County and the Developer."

Williamson County Commissioner Tim Atkisson, the liaison between the county board and the Walker's Bluff Casino Resort Project, said Tuesday he thought the county board signed the correct document, because it makes clear that Walker's Bluff project would move right into building the casino and resort, and not first build a temporary casino.

Building a temporary casino had been proposed and discussed as a way to get revenue coming in faster. But the idea was ultimately rejected.

Bunch agreed the main purpose of the HCA was to make it clear to the Illinois Gaming Board that they wanted to move directly into building the permanent casino and resort. However, while doing that, the signed HCA also changed some language and the description of the location, which worried her.

"The first thing that stood out was the address," said Bunch of the signed HCA. "The big thing (it indicates) is that they can change the address or location."

Bunch said she talked with Board Chairman Jim Marlo Tuesday afternoon, and Marlo talked with Bunch's partner, Elite Casino Resorts CEO Dan Kehl.

According to Bunch, the conversations settled both her concerns and Marlo's -- as he was worried that the county would be liable for additional infrastructure costs of Walker's Bluff Casino and Resort were to expand further in the future.

And now, she said, the new agreement will be approved by the Williamson County Board in a special meeting on Friday.

Bunch is anxious to deliver the required documents to the gaming board.

"I just want to get this signed and get it to the IGB," she said. "I'm ready to move on this and put people to work."

Work is expected to start on the project by Oct. 1.