Casino Vote Update: Residents Support Wild Rose Jefferson, Cedar Rapids Casino Measures

Written By Russ Mitchell on November 3, 2021

A casino vote in two counties conveyed the same message: Let’s have wagering as an entertainment option here.

Successful casino vote in Greene County

Voters in Greene County backed their casino vote — Public Measure II — with 2,054yes” votes for 88.8% support Tuesday night. The measure received 260no” votes for 11.2% opposition with all precincts reporting.

Greene County is home to Wild Rose Jefferson, which received Iowa’s 19th and most recent casino license following Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) approval on June 12, 2014.

Counties need support in back-to-back elections — eight years apart — to both open a casino and keep it open for good.

Jefferson, the Wild Rose Casino and Greene County met those standards with Tuesday’s successful vote.

A “no” vote would have forced Wild Rose to phase out wagering at the Greene County venue by the summer of 2023.

Linn County casino vote also wins

Linn County residents do not have a casino, but based on Tuesday night’s votes, they would like one.

Public Measure G,” the Linn County gambling referendum received 24,169yes” votes and 54.7% support for a casino in Cedar Rapids. The measure received 20,036 “no” votes for 45.3% opposition.

The measure needed 50% support +1 to pass. Tuesday’s election approval means developers can submit plans and a license application to the IRGC. The same commission that approved Jefferson’s casino in 2014 denied a Cedar Rapids casino bid two months earlier. Then-mayor Ron Corbett told the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

“A lot of us think Cedar Rapids got the short end of the stick on this one. I’m not ready to throw in the towel.”

Riverside Casino & Golf Resort near Iowa City is only 40 miles south of Cedar Rapids. The 2014 commission denied Cedar Rapids efforts in part because they felt the market couldn’t support two casinos that close together.

‘Yes’ casino vote means Cedar Rapids can keep trying

Even though 2014 IRGC members rejected Linn County’s license application, the public’s support from the 2013 election cycle still stands. Support on Tuesday now gives the county approval in back-to-back elections. So, regardless of what the commission does (or doesn’t do), Linn County won’t need to ask voters for another round of election support in eight years.

IRGC administrator Brian Ohorilko said he doesn’t know the current membership’s position on Cedar Rapids casino efforts.

“To be clear, I have not had any conversations with any of the commissioners with regard to their opinion on Linn County. Frankly, there’s not been an application submitted or any significant discussions other than, we’re aware that the referendum is going to a vote. The commission really hasn’t had any reason — or ability — to look into this particular situation at this time. It’s been quite a while. But with regard to the makeup of the commission, the commissioners on the commission now were not involved in the last process.”

Regional developer, labor group set some construction plans

Work is already underway on one of the next licensing proposals for the IRGC, according to the pro-casino Linn Wins campaign site.

The Cedar Rapids Development Group (CRDG) and the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building and Construction Trades Council signed an Oct. 26 labor agreement for casino construction. With a successful vote in hand, Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) will apply for the gaming license.

P2E’s portfolio includes Diamond Jo in Dubuque, Diamond Jo Casino in Worth County and Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Sioux City. It also operates gaming venues in New York and Virginia. P2E President Jonathan Swain said:

“We are excited to partner with such a great organization that consists of local workers who will build a casino in Linn County. At P2E, community partnership is a priority. A casino can be a catalyst for economic prosperity and community lift — and that starts with its construction of a facility that is done by local workers. We are ready to unlock Linn County’s potential.”

‘Yes’ Linn County vote brings issue back to IRGC agenda

Ohorilko and commissioners will spend some time in Cedar Rapids to review plans on-site. And, P2E might not be the only developer to apply for a Linn County license. The administrator listed some factors the IRGC will have to consider:

  • Public safety
  • Public awareness
  • Suitability of the people applying for a license

“It’s a public process with a number of steps. And those steps include getting a tour of a proposed site, looking at the site plans and looking at the financing to ensure that the project would be built in a way that was represented to the state and to the commission.”

The IRGC members will look at studies to get a sense of the market as well. Commissioners will want to know if a Cedar Rapids casino grows the market — or just causes it to shift.

“Even though they weren’t part of a previous process, they are committed to having an open and transparent process that the public would have an opportunity to participate in. But again, it’s premature to discuss what that might look like or the steps or the timing. The prerequisite is the referendum. And then, even after that someone would need to apply.”

Is a 20th casino good for the state?

Starting in May 2004, Iowa lawmakers asked regulators to keep an eye on the social and economic impact of gambling. The state requires the IRGC to commission a study every eight years.

Its findings for the current eight-year cycle are due at the end of the year. Ohorilko said the IRGC would likely apply the Spectrum Gaming Group and The Innovation Group findings to Cedar Rapids casino considerations.

“That study does take a look at various socio-economic factors. Does gaming in a community increase divorce rates and bankruptcies? Does it increase the number of jobs that are available? The study also looks at economic factors as well.”

Online casino wagering isn’t available in Iowa. But, Cedar Rapids customers could still place sports bets no matter where they’re at in the state. The in-person registration requirement for sports bets expired, so sports betting customers can sign up for an Iowa sportsbook online instead of visiting an Iowa casino.

Photo by Dreamstime.com
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

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