Cedar Rapids Casino Project Inches Forward

Written By Jarrett Huff on July 7, 2023
A proposal to build a casino in Cedar Rapids is moving slowly.

The site where Cooper’s Mill restaurant building once stood near downtown Cedar Rapids may soon transfer from the city’s hands to the Cedar Rapids Development Group. The Cedar Rapids City Council will meet July 11 to consider an option-to-purchase agreement as the developer hopes to turn the site into a casino.

The agreement would run through Dec. 31, 2025, if approved. Under the terms of the deal, the developer would have to pay $165,000 for the option to purchase the property. The option could extend to Dec. 31, 2026, for the cost of $55,000, if the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission is actively considering a license at that time.

Not much can be done until June 2024 to get a casino built in Cedar Rapids.

Moving forward with development at a standstill … for now

Currently, Iowa is in the midst of a two-year moratorium on casino license applications after HF 2497 was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds on June 17, 2022. Until next summer at the earliest, no new licenses for casinos will be granted in the state.

Despite this, Cedar Rapids could be moving forward to a place where it will be ready the minute an application for a license can be sent. The Cedar Rapids Development Group and Linn County Gaming Association plan to file the application jointly with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission as soon as it becomes possible to do so.

In November 2021, Linn County voters passed a referendum allowing operators to seek a gaming license indefinitely. The deal between the city and the groups for support of the application for a casino runs through October 2029. As far as online gaming expansion goes, so far state legislature has frowned upon the idea of online casinos in Iowa.

What could a casino facility in Cedar Rapids look like?

The city-owned property will reportedly be sold at fair market value to the developer. The developer has also made other offers on private properties nearby. The plan for the casino, which the city prefers to be operated by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, is a $250 million, 160,000-square-foot facility set to be named the Cedar Crossing Casino.

The facility would feature venues for entertainment and cultural arts, as well as a variety of bars and restaurants. As for the terms of the deal with the city, the minimum requirements for the casino facility would be a $150 million, 125,000-square-foot facility with a 45,000-square-foot casino, 11,000-square-foot restaurant, 12,00o-square-foot entertainment space and 1,500-vehicle parking lot, all wrapped up in a one-story package.

With the agreement comes the establishment of the Community Betterment Fund. With revenue from the casino, the fund would help with economic development, affordable housing, amenities, trails, infrastructure, or other opportunities for the benefit of Cedar Rapids. The developer would make monthly payments to the fund as long as it operates the casino. The payments would be 2.25% of the Adjusted Net Gaming Win.

In addition to the fund, the operator will contribute 8% of its annual net gaming revenue to local nonprofits. The deal also has a stipulation that after the first year of the casino’s operation through its 10th year, the casino must employ a minimum of 300 people full-time. If the average monthly employment ever falls below 250 employees, the operator would pay the city $1,000 for every employee it is below.

Not everyone wants Cedar Crossing to be

A major opponent of a Cedar Rapids casino has been Dan Kehl. Kehl is the CEO of Elite Casino Resorts, which owns and operates three casinos. They are Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside, Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort in Larchwood, and Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport.

Kehl has been known to make large contributions to political campaigns to help deter the rise of new casinos. His concern is a new casino in Cedar Rapids would take away a lot of revenue from his company’s casinos. Cedar Rapids previously had bids for a casino rejected in 2014 and 2017.

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Jarrett Huff

Jarrett Huff is a former sports editor at Northern Star Media from Wonder Lake, Illinois. Friends and family will tell you he's an NBA history nerd with a diehard passion for the Chicago Bulls, Bears and Cubs.

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