Residents of Fort Dodge and surrounding Webster County head to the polls today to decide on whether to support a proposal to bring in a riverboat casino, if state legislators give the go-ahead for new gambling licenses. Jim Kersten is running the campaign for Webster County Citizens For New Jobs. Kersten says the riverboat would bring 350 good-paying jobs with the 30-to-35-million dollar investment, in addition to prospects for a hotel, convention center and an indoor-outdoor aquatic park. He says supporters of the proposal are betting state lawmakers will lift the current moratorium on new gambling licenses. Kersten says “Gaming is most likely going to be expanding in Iowa and we are positioning ourselves to be able to take advantage of that expansion,” in addition to creating jobs, a more diverse economy and an entertainment venue that’s unmatched in the area. He acknowledges the issue has divided the community. Kersten predicts it’ll be a very high turnout election with a very close finish. Terry Dillon is spokesman for the opposition group, called “Don’t Gamble With Our Future Webster County.” Dillon says he’s against bringing gambling to the Fort Dodge area on ethical and economic grounds, saying studies have found gambling is a “value-changing” industry and a “predatory parasite.” Dillon quotes a Creighton University study of some 200 casino counties nationwide that found counties with casinos had a 100-percent higher bankruptcy rate than counties without casinos. He remains hopeful Iowa legislators will not allow expanded gambling and that Webster County voters aren’t lured by the promise of new jobs. Dillon says a riverboat casino will also bring new addicts and more destruction of core values. Dillon says “Gambling is an economic black hole” that brings “more and more red ink while these casino owners take more and more millions of dollars out of our economy and squirrel them away in their personal bank accounts.” Dillon says the vote-yes campaign is outspending the vote-no campaign by a factor of ten-to-one. Ten Iowa counties have voted on similar gambling proposals in the past year, five have approved the idea — five have rejected it. New gambling proposals have been approved in: Palo Alto, Worth, Black Hawk, Wapello and Franklin counties and rejected in: Dickinson, Cerro Gordo, Linn, Clay and Sac counties. The Iowa House has approved legislation that would not allow any new gambling licenses but the full Senate has yet to put the measure to a vote. That may come within days.
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