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Local officials offer testimony for Walker's Bluff gaming license

  • Walker's Bluff has been home to several big-name entertainment shows such as this Sara Evans concert in June.

    Walker's Bluff has been home to several big-name entertainment shows such as this Sara Evans concert in June.
    Holly Kee photo

 
BY HOLLY KEE
hkee@localsouthernnews.com
updated: 10/23/2018 5:14 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- Following her vow to "not give up," Walker's Bluff owner Cynde Bunch made the trek to Springfield again last week, where area officials testified before the State House Gaming Subcommittee on the proposed resort expansion at Walker's Bluff.

A gaming license is an integral part of the expansion plans.

Bunch is seeking a gaming license from the state of Illinois for an on-site casino, as part of a proposed resort expansion, but the $175 million privately funded project will not proceed without the license.

That license can't be granted until the required legislation is passed.

Testifying on behalf of the project were Jackson County Board Chairman John Rendleman, Herrin Mayor Steve Frattini, and Kathy Lively, CEO of Mantra-Con Corporation and a member of the Southern Illinois Workforce Development Board.

Williamson County Commissioner Ron Ellis was unable to attend but submitted written testimony for the project.

"Our region is in transition from an economy dependent on coal mining to one that embraces multiple sectors," said Lively in her testimony. "The unemployment rate in Southern Illinois historically lags behind the state and national rates."

Lively told lawmakers the resort, "that is much more than just a casino," would offer "hundreds of career opportunities" not just at the resort, but to the businesses that would be "inspired to open" as a result of the resort.

Frattini agreed.

"Aside from direct employment, it will be the catalyst for a ripple effect for job retention, expansion, and new job creation," he said.

Rendleman told lawmakers that businesses in Jackson County closing and causing a loss of population added another component to the argument.

"Unlike a state handout like a new prison, this project would signify that private enterprise is investing money in our region," he said. "This investment would be a vote of confidence in Southern Illinois. It would be recognition of the great quality of life obtained in our land of milk and honey."

The Resort at Walker's Bluff would include two hotels, a full-scale concert/convention center, an indoor water park, restaurants and a casino. Construction would require a workforce of 1,250 with 1,000 permanent positions at the resort.

Statewide, the gaming bill includes six licenses and would create a total of 5,500 constructions jobs and about 11,000 permanent jobs.

Rep. Dave Severin (R-Benton), a supporter of legislation to award the gaming license to Walker's Bluff, attended the hearing.

"Gen. David Harris had a good question," said Severin. "He noted that casinos in Southern Illinois have reported a 2.9 percent loss of revenue, questioning why the license was so important."

Harris, a Republican, represents Illinois' 66th District.

Frattini responded that the resort "is not just a casino, it's a destination point with an indoor water park, hotel, and conference center."

Severin said he felt the hearing "went well. All three that testified did a good job."

Speaking in Springfield after the hearing last Wednesday, Bunch remained steadfast in her pursuit of the license.

"Leaders across all levels of government agree that the impact of this project would be much more than 'just a casino,'" she said. "I'm very grateful to these three exceptional people that have come here today to advocate for this opportunity for Southern Illinois."

The fall veto session begins next month.