Could A Casino Come To Iowa’s Second Largest City?

Posted By Russ Mitchell on May 4, 2021

Cedar Rapids has a lot to offer but, for now, a new casino isn’t one of the options.

Nine years after Linn County voters gave gaming efforts 61% support, there are still no architectural drawings to unveil, no vendors to hire and no golden shovels to break ground in Iowa’s second-largest city.

Cedar Rapids casino supporters have tripped over a key second hurdle — the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) has so far maintained a philosophical cap that protects the territory of 19 casinos already in the state.

At a 2017 meeting, IRGC chair Rich Arnold said a new Cedar Rapids casino would take anywhere from 45%-56% of its revenue from already-established Iowa casinos in the region.

The Riverside Casino and Golf Resort — south of Iowa City — is about 40 miles away. The Isle Casino Hotel of Waterloo is about 55 miles away.

There are literally millions of dollars at stake.

Riverside’s casino reported nearly $82 million in gross revenue so far in the fiscal year 2021. Waterloo’s casino generated about $62.5 million in revenue so far in FY21.

So, with those distances and dollars in mind, commission members opposed the past Cedar Rapids casino efforts with a 4-1 vote in April 2014 and again with a 3-2 vote in November 2017.

The failed IRGC votes caused enough time to pass that Linn County voters now need to support a second referendum.

Iowa statutes call for 60% voter support in a county before casino construction can begin. Linn County met that requirement. But counties need a second 60% vote eight years later to affirm their interest in gaming. Casino or not, Linn County voters need a second affirmative vote for any plans to move forward.

Greene County has casino vote, too

Wild Rose Jefferson is fully operational. It is the only current casino that still needs its second 60% support from Greene County voters. A referendum in August 2013 received 75% support. Ten months later, the IRGC approved plans for the casino on Highway 30 with a 3-2 vote of support.

Greene County deputy auditor Billie Jo Hoskins said a Nov. 2 vote would decide whether or not gaming should continue in Greene County. Again, back-to-back support allows counties to keep casinos operating without the need for perpetual referendums.

That wasn’t always the case, according to IRGC administrator Brian Ohorilko:

“The statute was changed to essentially not require (ongoing) referendums if a county passes two successive referendums. In all of these other gaming counties, those two successive referendums have occurred. So, there is no longer a referendum requirement in any of Iowa’s other counties (with casinos).”

Linn County also plans November vote

Ohorilko said the IRGC hasn’t been in discussion with Cedar Rapids officials about their casino plans.

The Linn County deputy of elections Rebecca Stonawski said a gaming referendum vote is in the works, however:

“The board of supervisors could choose to do that in September, or in November. It’s my understanding that they’ll probably do it in November for the city/school election.”

Photo by Ryan J. Foley / AP
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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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