Developers have plans for a Cedar Rapids casino in place, but gambling in Linn County could be on hold for at last two years if Gov. Kim Reynolds signs HF 2497.
Lawmakers added a two-year casino license moratorium to a one-stop-shop gambling bill on one of the final days of the session.
The amendment doesn’t sit well with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which met Thursday at Wild Rose Casino and Hotel in Emmetsburg. It was the group’s first meeting since the 2022 Iowa Legislative session came to an end.
The pause would be a blow to Linn County voters who gave Cedar Rapids developers permission to move ahead with a casino application process.
Under those plans, a casino would anchor the proposed $250 million, 160,000-square foot Cedar Crossing entertainment complex and cultural center. The planned site is near Interstate 380 and downtown Cedar Rapids, according to Marissa Payne of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. She had a look at the project plans.
Peninsula Pacific Entertainment is Cedar Crossing’s preferred operator. Its casino plans called for 800 to 1,100 gaming machines and 60 to 80 table games.
Pending the governor’s signature, those plans may have to wait until at least 2024. IRGC chair Julie Andres gave her fellow members a chance to comment Thursday in Emmetsburg. She said:
“Given these developments, we wanted to just let you guys know that we are going to wait and see how this plays out and then decide what our next steps are.”
More on HF 2497 — the state’s 2022 gambling bill
‘Politics is now in Iowa’s gaming industry’
IRGC member Lance Horbach pointed out the role of commissions. Since commission seats aren’t elected positions, members can make decisions without influence from campaign money from special interest groups.
“My concern is, if this is signed, politics is now in Iowa’s gaming industry,” he said. “I can wait two years if that’s what the legislature chooses. We work on behalf of and at the will of the governor and the legislature. They set the guidelines. We execute it. But I will tell you from experience that a moratorium of two years, is actually (the legislature) saying ‘I want to stay involved.'” He continued:
“They’re going to have to make a decision, whether they allow a sunset to die, or to reenact it. So there’s another decision coming in two years. And that’s the concern for those of you out there. And for those of us out here that are in charge of planning Iowa gaming well into the future. But we will learn. We’ll have discussions and we’ll move forward with whatever is thrown at us. But I do have some concern about the impact on the commission process and state law.”
About the late change to Iowa’s gambling bill
“I understand both sides of it. But the studies that I have seen, it’s indisputable in my eyes. That casino would cannibalize the nonprofits in many of our areas over in eastern Iowa. We just know. I don’t think even the pro-Cedar Rapids folks would dispute that.”
Iowa Gaming Association (IGA) President and CEO Wes Ehrecke told PlayIA “several members had advocated for a moratorium,” on new casinos.
Lawmakers may not have needed to step in with a two-year ban. Previous versions of the IRGC membership denied Linn County applications because of saturation.
Gambling moratorium surprised other commission members as well
“I don’t want to speak for all of the commissioners. But, I think we were all surprised by this decision,” IRGC member Mark Campbell said. “And as commissioners in this process, we value the integrity of the process.”
IRGC vice-chair Daryl Olsen aslo said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” with the decision.
“I truly believe these decisions should stay at the level of commission. But our job is to regulate and not legislate. And so we will continue to regulate. I think one thing: I’m very proud of this commission. We work hard to gather the most information we possibly can. We research things we spend an awful lot of time and energy making sure we understand every topic.”
IRGC member Amy Burkhard added: “We welcome that communication and we think that’s in the best interest of the future of gaming in Iowa.”
In other action:
- The IRGC had to levy fines against the Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington. In one instance, a gambling customer got a 4-year-old child past security and onto the casino floor. The child even pushed buttons on some of the gaming machines as the adult gambled. In another incident, a minor reached the casino floor. The oversights led to $40,000 in fines.
- Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs also had an underage gambler get past security. Casino operators there received a $20,000 fine. A casino employee in Council Bluffs also let a customer get overcharged for services using a credit card. The employee gave the customer a cash refund for the “error.” Essentially, the customer used excess money from a credit card purchase to get gambling cash.
You can’t use credit to gamble in Iowa. You also must be 21 or older to enter the casino floor.