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Opinion | Voice of The Southern

Voice of The Southern: Thumbs up to Walker's Bluff casino, Centerstone
Voice of The Southern

Voice of The Southern: Thumbs up to Walker's Bluff casino, Centerstone

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Thumbs up to the proposed Walker’s Bluff casino and resort clearing its first political hurdle. The Williamson County board last week approved a $180 million expansion at the facility. Construction will begin on the first phase of the project once it receives final approval from the Illinois Gaming Board. That process could take up to a year. Plans for the project, called The Resort at Walker’s Bluff, include two hotels, a year-round water park, an entertainment venue and convention center, restaurants, spa and a casino. It is estimated the project will provide 1,250 construction jobs, 726 permanent jobs, $15 million in local annual revenue, $34 million in local employment and $42 million in labor income. Those are eye-popping numbers that would be a huge boost to the Southern Illinois economy.

Thumbs up to Centerstone, a behavioral health care provider in Carbondale, for expanding its services to include gambling treatment and intervention. The services are being added as the result of the facility receiving a $119,517 grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services Substance Use Prevention and Recovery program. When Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation expanding gambling in Illinois earlier this year he promised that more money would be budgeted for gambling addition services. The addition of the service is particularly welcome in Southern Illinois. There are no other gambling addiction services in Centerstone’s service area, which includes Franklin, Jackson, Johnson, Perry, Saline, Union and Williamson counties.

Thumbs up to the expansion of Jackson County’s Southern Illinois Airport announced this week. The Airport Authority board approved a $13 million construction project this week. The airport will add three new hangars that will allow for business expansions that could create 100 new high-tech aviation jobs. Other business expansions could result in dozens more jobs. There are also plans for an 8,300 square-foot terminal that will also house the Airport Authority and a restaurant/bar. In addition to the airport expansion, Air Methods, operating as Arch Helicopters, is constructing a two-building complex to support its operations with Southern Illinois Healthcare.

Thumbs up to Veterans Airport as well on the announcement that its contract with Cape Air has been extended four more years. Cape Air currently offers daily flights to St. Louis. In another bit of good news, it was also announced that service will be added to Nashville. Flight schedules will be announced at a later date.

Thumbs up, cautiously, to the news that Illinois is “showing progress” in the Illinois Department of Public Health’s three-year goal of reducing opioid deaths by one-third by 2020. The number of opioid-related deaths decreased in Illinois during 2018 for the first time in five years. Unfortunately, there were still 2,167 opioid-related deaths reported that year. “Although any decrease in deaths is something to be celebrated, this decrease was driving primarily by a decline in deaths among non-Hispanic whites,” said Jenny Epstein, the state’s director of strategic opioid initiatives. Epstein noted the rate of opioid overdoses continues to increase among black and Hispanic residents.

Thumbs up to the announcement that the Southern Illinois University will name a new system president prior to the Board of Trustees Dec. 3-4 meeting. The system has been without a full-time president since Randy Dunn was deposed last year. Kevin Dorsey has been serving as interim president since July 2018. Board chairman J. Phil Gilbert said the board is in the process of doing background checks on finalists for the position. State law requires contract details for university presidents before they are officially hired via board vote.

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