CARTERVILLE- The owners of Walker's Bluff in Carterville are disappointed that the Illinois House ended its session Wednesday without acting on the bill that would give them the gambling license they crave.
But Cynde Bunch, who owns the winery and concert venue, says Walker's Bluff is not deterred from pursuing the license, and the ambitious expansion of their complex in west Williamson County that would follow.
"We are very disappointed," she said Thursday. "Instead of building the complex and putting people to work, we will be back to Springfield in June."
Senate Bill 7, which passed the Senate in mid-May and was now up for consideration by the House, authorizes six new Illinois casinos -- in Chicago, the south Chicago suburbs, Rockford, Danville, Lake County and Williamson County. It never came up in the House for a vote before the legislature adjourned.
With that license, Bunch said, they can build Walker's Bluff into a conference and convention center, "attracting events from around the world and supplying world-class service."
A gaming license would bankroll the ambitious expansion Bunch has proposed for Walker's Bluff, a $175 million project with an on-site casino, two hotels, a full-scale concert and convention center, restaurants and indoor water park.
Bunch estimates that the construction alone would bring 1,250 jobs, and the completed facility would require another 1,000 permanent jobs at the resort -- as well as bring potentially millions of dollars in revenue to greater southern Illinois.
One of her boosters is state Rep. Terri Bryant, a Murphysboro Republican, who said she is in favor of additional gaming licenses in Illinois only if Walker's Bluff is included.
"I'm all in if that's the case," she said. "This bill is about jobs, not gambling, and would be a major boost to tourism in southern Illinois."
Bryant said this region too often gets the short end of development opportunities.
"It's time to seize this opportunity," she said. "Walker's Bluff can become a destination site for travelers. The water park, for example, would be wonderful for kids, including my grandchildren. I fully support the resort."
Community support and advocacy for The Resort at Walker's Bluff began nearly two years ago as hundreds of supporters, businesses and organizations joined project organizers for rallies, parades and even a demonstration in Springfield in hopes of bringing jobs and increasing peripheral business growth.
"We remain committed to bringing this opportunity to southern Illinois as jobs and revenue are at stake," said Emily Burke, Walker's Bluff project relations consultant.
State Rep. Dave Severin, a Benton Republican, said southern Illinois needs exactly what Walker's Bluff would provide -- an all-in-one resort with hotel, convention center, dining, and entertainment opportunities.
"A gaming license could solve that (lack)," he said.
Resolutions of support for the project were passed by dozens of villages and city councils, as well as the Southern Illinois Mayors Association and Williamson County.
Bunch said the fight will continue unabated. "Years from now, the only thing that will matter about all of this is what we were able to accomplish," she said.
"To our leaders: Though your task may seem both laborious and futile, we hope that June brings a balanced budget, security and the positive direction that will restore Illinois residents' sense of pride. There's a prosperous future before us."