Governor Tom Vilsack has signed a gambling bill into law that sets the stage for a debate about new riverboat casinos in Iowa. Vilsack says it’s now up to the Racing and Gaming Commission to make that decision since the bill sets out the circumstances under which new licenses may be granted, but doesn’t specify how many.Vilsack says he wishes the Legislature had addressed how many licenses should be granted. Vilsack says the Racing and Gaming Commission will do it in a responsible way. Vilsack says the key is not to “cannibalize” existing casinos by granting a competing license that would drain gamblers away. Vilsack says he’s confident the Racing and Gaming Commission will make the best decision for the state. So what is the best decision? Vilsack says “whatever” the Commission decides will be best for the state. The Racing and Gaming Commissioners late last year decided not to lift their moratorium on new gambling licenses and said they wanted “direction” from the legislature. Vilsack says the Legislature has sent a “specific signal” that new licenses can be granted if the case can be made.Vilsack says the legislation “represents a good compromise.” Vilsack doesn’t expect “quick judgment” from the Racing and Gaming Commission on new licenses. Vilsack says the commission needs to be thoughtful. He doesn’t expect a “snap judgment” as the governor says regulators need to be thorough. The bill also resolved a dispute over how much the state can tax the race tracks. The new law sets the tax rate for riverboats and race tracks at 23 percent. But if a riverboat decides to permanently dock or a race track decides to add table games like roulette, their tax rate climbs to 25 percent. The Governor says there’s now a degree of certainty about how much gambling taxes the state will get. And Vilsack points out that the state-licenses casinos pay more taxes to the state than general business corporations do. Vilsack signed the legislation in downtown Des Moines on the site where the Iowa Events Center’s being constructed. It’s a project financed in part by state gambling taxes.
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