The five-member Racing and Gaming Commission has unanimously decided to accept applications for new casinos in the state, but there’s no guarantee any applicant will get a license.
It’s likely the five Iowa counties which have already approved gambling referendums will apply to get casinos in their areas. Commission chairman Greg Seyfer of Cedar Rapids says it’s possible the commission will decide not to grant any new licenses in order to protect the profits of the current state-licensed casinos.
"I think TouchPlay taught us something, that the State of Iowa does not want gambling in every location," Seyfer said. Legislators pulled the plug on the Iowa Lottery’s TouchPlay machines after complaints.
According to Paul Hayes of Urbandale, another member of the commission, studies have shown there is "some marginal benefit" to adding new casinos, although the state is reaching a "saturation" point.
"I think that it means that it’s going to be a much more complicated process to granting new licenses than it has been in the past," Hayes said. "It’s not going to be as simple as pointing out all the wonderful economic development benefits to those counties that are seeking to have licenses granted in their county."
Commissioner Toni Urban of Des Moines was even more blunt, listing what she considers the drawbacks in each of the five counties which are likely casino applicants.
"And I believe that this commission is going to be very protective of the casinos that they have already opened," Urban said.
Commissioner Kate Cutler of Council Bluffs was a member of the commission in 2005 when regulators granted licenses for four new casinos.
"I obviously am supportive of opening the whole process up so we can look at what appears to be five applicants, maybe more," Cutler said. "…We don’t know what we’re going to see."
Commissioner Andrea Rivera-Harrison of Des Moines indicated "balance" would be important to her.
"A balance between those communities, a balance between the citizens of Iowa," Rivera-Harrison said, "and a balance and the sensitivity we need for those people who are potential victims of gambling addiction."
Click on the audio link below to listen to all of what the commissioners said on this subject during their meeting this morning.
Representatives from Lyon, Webster, Tama, Wapello and Franklin counties spoke briefly before the commission this morning, making a pitch for their projects. Voters in each of those counties have approved gambling referendums.
Applications from counties which have passed a gambling reference and which hope to land a new casino are due October 1.