The state Racing and Gaming Commission today voted unanimously to continue the moratorium on new gambling licenses — but said it would reconsider if it gets some direction from the Iowa Legislature. Commissioner Diane Hamilton made the motion and outline the things she wants the legislature to address. She says they want guidance in the areas of cruising requirements for casino boats, defining lakes and reservoirs for the purpose of accommodating excursions boats, a maximum number of excursion boats, and how the Gamblers Treatment Program will be funded. Hamilton said several of the issues where part of what prompted the freeze on licenses in 1998, such as what is considered a proper body of water for a casino boat. She says that could impact a decision on a license for the counties that recently passed gambling referendums. Hamilton says there are at least two locations where the proposal calls for the casino boat to run in a gravel pit, and two locations where there is no lake and they’d have to dig a hole and put water in it. She says under current rules those areas cannot be awarded a license. In further discussion, Hamilton says her community has a lot of needs and is not close enough to any of the casinos in the state to benefit from them — so she understands why the groups want to bring gambling to their areas. Hamilton says she also understands there’s a problem with gambling addiction and maybe more needs to be done in that area, but she says continuing the moratorium wouldn’t make it go away. She says we can’t go back now and disallow gambling all over the state of Iowa, so she’s is really considering “being in favor of lifting the moratorium.”Commissioner Gerald Bair of Ankeny is the former Director of the Iowa Department of Revenue. Bair says the potential revenue the new casinos could generate is appealing for those communities, but doesn’t sway him yet. He says the thing that continues to weigh on his mind are the opinion polls that continue to show that 65 to 70-percent of Iowans don’t think we need more gambling. Bair says that puts the issue in a different venue that needs clarification from the legislature. Commissioner Kate Cutler of Honey Creek urged the groups that’re pushing for new licenses to call lawmakers. She says it doesn’t matter if they’re from a small or large county, she says their opinion could still be the one that sways legislators. Commission chair Mike Mahaffey of Montezuma is the Powesheik County Attorney and admits his experience with problem gambling cases has influenced his opinion on the issue. Mahaffey says though he’s also not heard overwhelming arguments in favor of lifting the moratorium. He says outside the counties that’ve passed gambling referendums, he says he hasn’t received that many calls in support of lifting the moratorium. So, Mahaffey says he “thinks the moratorium is the correct public policy at this time.” After the meeting Mahaffey summed up the action of the commission. He says in the absence of direction from the legislature, the issue will not be revisited in the near future. The moratorium was put in place in September of 1998.
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