State gambling regulators today said they would not vote to grant more gambling licenses in Iowa, but the state Racing and Gaming Commission stopped short of establishing a formal moratorium on new licenses. The decision came after the public was allowed to comment on the idea of gambling expansion. Reverend Gregory Palmer, Bishop of the United Methodist Church of Iowa, spoke out in favor of the moratorium. “Gambling, as a means of acquiring material gain by chance and at the neighbor’s expense, is a menace to personal character and to social morality,” the Bishop said. Palmer said he was speaking on behalf of 195,000 members of the United Methodist Church in Iowa in 838 congregations statewide. “We believe that organized and commercial gambling encourages the belief that work is unimportant, that money can solve all of our problems and that greed is the norm for achievement,” Palmer said. He appealed to members of the panel to stop the further spread of gambling in Iowa. “The pressure to reconsider your decision and allow for more licenses must be excruciating. Too quickly made and too often hollow promises of a windfall of personal fortune and community revenue intentionally distort the reality that gambling feeds on human greed,” Palmer said. According to the Methodist leader, gambling is responsible for bankrupting the personal finances of many people while “demeaning the human spirit.” Commission Chair Diane Hamilton said she’s against granting any more licenses. Hamilton says the commission will have a “serious credibility problem” if it reconsiders applications it had turned down when it chose to grant some licenses. If the commission chooses one to get a license in the next round, Hamilton asks “What do we do with the other four or five (applicants)?” While she said it’s a credibility issue, she’s also concerned about granting too many licenses. Hamilton and the other members of the Racing and Gaming Commission each said they would not vote to grant another casino license in the state. The commission approved four new casino licenses on May 11th and Commissioner Gerald Bair of Ankeny says that’s enough for now. He says it’s important that the four they selected have the opportunity to get up and running. Bair also says it was a complicated process to repeal a hard moratorium — so he thinks it’s better to leave some options open. Commissioner Mike Mahaffey of Montezuma was the only no vote when the four new casino licenses were approved.
Mahaffey says he did not like the end result of the vote, but he says he thinks the process of selecting the recipients of new licenses worked. “We need a period of time to reflect upon what has happened and to see what’s going to happen in the future,” Mahaffey says. After the meeting, Hamilton — the commission’s chairwoman — says the commission didn’t feel a hard moratorium on new licenses was the way to go. “I think some of these, the applicants that weren’t granted a license see that as a death sentence,” she says. “I think this will accomplish what we wanted to and not make it sound so bad to them.” Despite today’s action, Kenneth Nelson told the commission the National Cattle Congress will go ahead with its request for a license to re-start dog racing in Waterloo. They’re making the request after failing to win one of the new casino licenses. “We still believe that we have the legal right to submit an application for review and consideration by the commission,” he says. Gayle Burnett asked the commission to reconsider a license for the Landmark Casino and Hotel in Franklin County. Burnett cited several issues she says were not properly portrayed about the Franklin County proposal. “Ultimately, the state and all Iowans stand to realize greater benefits with an additional facility in Franklin County,” Burnett says. Burnett contends that if the commission denied the request, it would lead to questions about the integrity of the process. Chuck Hurley, the president of the Iowa Policy Center and a former lawmaker, offered commissioners other food for thought. Hurley, with tongue-in-cheek, reminded the commission of the law that governs gambling in the state. “It is chapter 725 and it has a one word title: vice,” he said. “There are two behaviors that’re regulated in the Iowa Code today under the vice chapter. One is gambling, the other is prostitution.” Hurley says if you can argue that expanding gambling brings more revenue into the state, using that logic you could argue that legalized prostitution is economic development, too.