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Grapes in a vineyard  rwk

Unripe grapes in a southern Illinois vineyard (file photo/Post-Dispatch)

Updated at 9:51 a.m.

CARTERVILLE, Ill. • Cynde Bunch wants to transform Walker’s Bluff in Carterville from a winery and restaurant, to a lodging and entertainment complex that would invest about $178 million back into Southern Illinois.

The destination resort complex, as referred to by Bunch, would include a 300-room hotel, a multi-purpose convention, conference and entertainment center, four new restaurants, spa facilities, an indoor water park and a casino.

She has one problem. She needs a gaming license to construct a casino.

The reason a casino is part of Walker’s Bluff’s proposed complex is because when the winery became to inquire what organizations look for when booking conferences in locations, the No. 2 request was gaming, according to Bunch.

“In order to push forward, and compete with surrounding resorts, I have to get the gaming license,” she said. “That is such a small portion of the entire project … it is so minuscule, but it is the key to get the folks to come.”

Proposed legislation in spring 2015 provided a plan that would bring smaller satellite casinos to central and Southern Illinois, as well as a casino for Chicago.

Although the gaming license is a critical piece to move forward with construction, Bunch said it is by no means the most important part of the project.

An economic impact analysis provided by Walker’s Bluff said construction of the different amenities would provide about 1,100 construction jobs over a four-year period. Then, after employment, there would be about 725 jobs available within the complex.

“I understand the state is a financial mess,” she said. “If there is anything that is needed in Southern Illinois, it is jobs.”

Bunch said she wanted to remain quiet and let the legislation work itself out in Springfield, but changed her mind after receiving word that Paducah lawmakers were working to allow casinos in Kentucky and Paducah was pushing for a gambling hall near its convention center.

Kentucky’s gambling laws only allow some betting on horse racing, according to the Kentucky statutes. There are currently no full-fledged casinos in Kentucky, and only charitable games are permitted.

Pam Spencer, public information officer with the city of Paducah, said she wasn't aware of any plans to bring a casino to the city, nor has she heard of any efforts to place a referendum on the state ballot to allow gambling in November.

State lawmakers in Southern Illinois say they are willing to support Walker’s Bluff, but would not comment specifically if they would vote for gaming expansion in Illinois.

Senator Gary Forby, D-Benton, said the plans that winery has is worth taking a look at, but the state can’t rely on gambling to fix its problems.

“I don’t think gambling should be the No. 1 issue to balance a budget,” Forby said. “If this is something that is going to help bring business in to balance the budget, I will definitely take look.”

State Rep John Bradley, D-Marion, said Bunch has demonstrated a commitment to the region, but he has never supported expansion of gambling.

“I will continue to do what I can within the parameters of my principles,” he said.

Bradley said he isn’t sure if the winery has to get a gaming to license to fulfill some of its plans, and he said he isn’t planning on voting for gaming expansion.

“But, I would do what I can to help Walker’s Bluff,” Bradley added.

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