WILLIAMSON COUNTY -- The Walker's Bluff Casino Resort project passed another hurdle on Wednesday afternoon when the Illinois Gaming Board granted the project "preliminary suitability," the next step in obtaining gaming licensure in Illinois.
Walker's Bluff owner Cynde Bunch made the announcement via her personal Facebook page on Wednesday evening.
"We were granted a 'preliminary license to proceed'!" she wrote. "Today we celebrate. Tomorrow at daylight we ride through a new set of hoops."
Part of those hoops require a signed Project Labor Agreement between Walker's Bluff officials and their partner in the project, Elite Casino Resorts of Iowa, and local labor organizations.
A PLA, also known as "community workforce agreement," is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project.
Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, was the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 1360 that was passed on May 30 requiring gaming applications to also include evidence that the applicant has entered into a fully executed project labor agreement with the applicable local building trades council.
"We did that to ensure jobs for southern Illinois," said Fowler.
That bill passed both houses and was sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker on June 8. He signed it Thursday afternoon.
During the Wednesday Zoom meeting of the Illinois Gaming Board, Elite Casino Resorts CEO Dan Kehl told officials the PLA was in the hands of project manager Tony Baxter.
In an email interview on Thursday morning, Kehl said "the documents have been signed by all parties in the last day or two."
On Thursday afternoon, Fowler confirmed that the PLA has been signed, allowing the project to move forward.
"I am excited that the Gaming Board gave initial approval for the Walker's Bluff Casino and Resort to move forward," he said. "This large-scale casino development project will be game changing for the region, bringing in critical construction and permanent jobs to the area. I am also extremely pleased to learn that there is a commitment to sign a project labor agreement, which will ensure that these well-paying jobs go to Illinois workers."
Kehl said the holdup with the PLA was simply of matter of being thorough.
"Like any large project there are millions of details to review and reach consensus," he said. "We believe this agreement will ensure that our project will be built with the highest quality local workers, on time, and on budget."
Kehl could not confirm a start date for the project, which will come once the Illinois Gaming Board gives its nod for construction to begin.
Kehl said right now the main concern "is to build a high-quality building that will make the community proud and to build it on time and on budget."
Kehl said the track record for Elite "speaks for itself," with successful operations in several other locations in its home state of Iowa.
"We are excited at the opportunity to build a jewel in Southern Illinois to complement the resort built by Dave and Cynde Bunch," he said.