The full House and Senate have yet to debate the bill that would re-write Iowa’s gambling law, but the behind-the-scenes wrangling appears to be underway among eastern Iowa lawmakers. Senator Bill Dotzler, a Waterloo democrat, is trying to decide if a provision of the bill would keep his community of Cedar Rapids from gaining a new casino license. The proposed bill says any new riverboat has to be at least fifty miles away from an existing casino.If you measure from downtown Waterloo to downtown Cedar Rapids, he says it’s over fifty miles, but it’s barely that far if you measure from one city to the edge of the proposed casino development, and he thinks the language should be clarified. Senator Dotzler says the rule would prevent Waterloo from building since it’s less than fifty miles from the Meskwaki Casino in Tama. The Ottumwa representative who helped write the rule says she doesn’t want it to apply to Indian casinos, because they’re not regulated by the state. Democrat Mary Gaskill says she just wanted to keep casinos from clustering in one area.She says a fifty-mile radius would prevent of problem gamblers banned from one casino simply going to another. Gaskill says though she comes from a community that’s vying to build a casino, she never intended for Waterloo to be prevented from getting one, too. Gaskill says the fifty-mile rule could be changed so both Waterloo and Cedar Rapids both qualify for a new riverboat…and Dotzler says it may have to be, as Black Hawk County residents already approved a gambling referendum and could build their casino first, leaving Cedar Rapids out in the cold. Dotzler says that would likely mean Linn County lawmakers would vote “no” on the whole bill. That’s a big block of votes on that issue, and if they lock up enough votes it could defeat the bill, so Dotzler says both sides will probably agree to support each other. The bill also makes communities wait 8 years between gambling votes. Cedar Rapids voted against gambling last fall and Democratic Senator Wally Horn says he’s not about to wait 8 years before trying again.Horn says he wouldn’t vote for the bill if it had an 8-year provision, saying Cedar Rapids might want another chance to vote in a year. Then there’s fellow Cedar Rapids lawmaker Jeff Elgin, who says many of his constituents like the 8-year waiting period for a new referendum.Elgin says since a gambling referendum that passes will create a casino that’ll be there for a long time, a “no” vote should last a long time, like eight years. Republican Elgin says they could compromise and allow a second vote before the waiting period kicks in, or cut the eight years in half. Elgin says this bill could change so much, nobody will know how to vote until the very end. The house is scheduled to take up the gambling bill on February 26th.
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