The State Racing and Gaming Commission took the first step today toward ending the moratorium on new gambling licenses. The commission voted 4-1 to rescind it’s six-year-old rule that capped the number of licenses — but not before hearing concerns from both sides in its public comment time. Lana Ross of the Iowa Methodist Church asked the commission to wait until a soci-economic study of gambling mandated by the legislature is completed. She says the study will show us information that we don’t have. She says past studies look at some issues, but aren’t all comprehensive. Ross says the state needs to know how people will be impacted by more gambling.She says they have great concerns about gambling in Iowa and the families that hurt. She says she knows there are many other people in the communities that passed gambling referendums about the people who hurt from gambling. State Senator Jack Kibbie, a democrat from Emettsberg, spoke out in favor of lifting the moratorium. Kibbie says the gambling bill passed in the last session of the legislature complied with the commission request for direction on the issue. And he says the gambling revenue is important for economic development.He says the message is clear, lift the moratorium and don’t wait, so “we can continue to grow the great State of Iowa.” After about an hour of comments –Commission chair Mike Mahaffey was the only vote against lifting the moratorium. He says he respects his fellow commissioners, “I just happen to think we have enough gambling here in Iowa, and I don’t think this is the answer to our ills. And I think this skews the public policy debate.” Mahaffey says he favored the idea of waiting to take action until they get the results of the socio-economic study.He says he doesn’t understand why anyone, for or against, wouldn’t want to see the results of the study. He says we already have more gambling than all but the states Nevada and Mississippi, and he says we need as much input as we can get. Mahaffey said before the vote that he has a problem with rural communities thinking gambling is going to be a panacea for all their problems. He says the point he was trying to make is that he’s saddened to hear from so many of the rural counties that the only way they believe they can have economic development is to have a gambling boat. Mahaffey says, “We surely need to do a better job in the state of Iowa than that, in terms of making sure that there’s opportunities in the state of Iowa.” The commission will now hold a public hearing on rescinding the rule on July 27th. They could take final action on the issue at their September 2nd meeting — which would open the way for the commission to take applications for new licenses. Mahaffey can’t say how many licenses the commission would approve. He says he doesn’t know the answer to that. Six counties have passed referendums that would allow them to apply for licenses. Other counties could still pass a referendum and compete for a new license. Mahaffey was asked if there could be 20 to 25 new licenses approved.He says he doubts that there will be, as he says five counties did vote against referendums. He says there “may be a few more.” Kim Miller led the effort to get the gambling referendum passed in Worth County, and said she had expected a 3-2 vote. She says you don’t ever know until it happens and she’s excited to move forward. Miller’s effort now moves from convincing the commission to lift the moratorium to competing for a license.She says she’s gotten to know the people from the other counties through the legislative process and wishes them the best. She says the way she looks at it, they’re going to focus on getting their county ready. She says this has been like going over hurdles in a track meet and now they have to get ready for the pole vault and the big one. The process could take awhile, but she says she’s ready.She says one thing she’s learned through the legislative process is patience, and she says they’ve been patient this long and Worth County will be patient for however long it takes as long as they get the good outcome in the end. James Crane is the economic development director for Webster County — which has also approved a gambling referendum. He was also pleased with the commission’s action.He says that’s what they came down hoping the commission would do. Crane says winning a gambling license could have a big impact on Webster County.He says it would mean 350 jobs, somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 40-million dollars in taxable investment, a new convention center. The Administrator of the Racing and Gaming Commission says the earliest any new licenses could be issued would be at the end of this year.
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