Three prominent Republicans from Sioux City are debating the proper tax rates for Iowa casinos. State regulators are accepting applications for a new casino and Debi Durham — the Iowa Republican Party’s 2002 nominee for lieutenant governor who serves as president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, proposes this.
"If you decide that an expansion of gaming is the best course of action for the state, I ask you to please consider supporting a reduction in the state tax paid by the (existing) casinos until either it is determined there is no adverse impact or the market supports such expansion, making the casinos and the communities they serve whole," Durham said.
Woodbury County voters approved a gambling referendum in 1989 and a state-licensed casino has been operating in Durham’s hometown of Sioux City since 1993. Sioux City is the home of G.O.P. gubernatorial candidate Christopher Rants, too. "I’m not convinced that the Racing and Gaming Commission will offer new licenses given the fact that I think there will be cannibalizing of the existing markets," Rants says.
If a new casino license is granted, though, Rants does not favor lowering the state taxes on the casinos that are operating in Iowa today. "I don’t think we ought to be lowering taxes on casinos…I think there are plenty of other places — if we’re going to reduce taxes — that we ought to focus, be it on small businesses, be it on families," Rants says. "I’m not sure the casino industry is the one that needs the tax break."
Rants made his comment this week during a forum where four other Republican gubernatorial candidates were quizzed about a number of issues, including gambling. Another Republican from Sioux City is also running for governor. Bob Vander Plaats ran for governor in 2002; he was the Iowa Republican Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006 and he is running for governor, again, in 2010.
"I’m in no way in favor of the expansion of gambling, nor am I in favor of lowering the taxes on existing casinos," Vander Plaats said. Christian Fong, a 32-year-old businessman from Cedar Rapids who is also running for governor, has expressed an interest in reducing state taxes on the 17 state-licensed casinos that are operating today.
"I think we have enough casinos in Iowa," Fong said during Wednesday’s candidate forum in Des Moines. "I certainly would love to explore any way we can lower taxes, not just on casinos, I would like to lower taxes on all Iowans — on all Iowa businesses, on all Iowa families." Rod Roberts, a state Representative from Carroll, agrees with Rants that the market may be saturated and Roberts says, given current economic conditions, now may not be the time for a new casino.
"It’s obvious that the people of Iowa, at this point in time, are accepting of legalized gambling including the casinos we have in place and it’s the state’s responsibility — as long as the people are accepting of legalized gambling — that we administer and regulate gambling in the state," Roberts said. "…I don’t think we should lower taxes on the casinos."