(This story was updated at 3:42 PM)
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission is hearing from representatives from several communities today who hope to get gambling licenses for new casinos. Ottumwa City Manager Joe Helfenberger told the panel a casino is important for Wapello County, which has been hit hard recently by the down economy.
"Wapello County and the city of Ottumwa are at the highest poverty level in Iowa. As the economy worsens, this area will become more and more dependent on the rest of the state for subsistence," Helfenberger said. "A casino in Wapello County and the City of Ottumwa would be a significant move in the direction of self-sufficiency in this area. There would be significantly less tax money needed to be directed from the rest of the state to this area."
Ottumwa officials asked the commission for a casino license before and were denied. According to the community’s city manager, Ottumwa could use the economic boost of a casino.
"The impact of approximately 420 additional jobs at a time when the largest number of layoffs in the state were just announced by John Deere in Wapello County would make a big difference," Helgenberger said.
Fort Dodge Mayor Terry Lutz also made a pitch to the commission. Lutz said his community put together a plan that looks out to the year 2030, and they’re already starting to implement parts of the plan.
"(Fort Dodge voters) overwhelmingly have passed a referendum for an $8.9 million aquatic center that I’m pleased to say will be starting under construction next week. It’ll be done in 2010," Lutz said.
"Shortly after that, we went to the voters again and asked them to approve a one-cent local option sales tax. We had had a half-a-penny sales tax. The one-cent passed overwhelmingly and that starts in July…to…continue to reinvest in our community."
A new casino is another piece of the Fort Dodge growth agenda, according to the city’s mayor. "Another one of the key initiatives identified in the ‘Vision 2030’ (plan) by the public of Fort Dodge and Webster County was to have a gaming facility in our area," Lutz said. "That was consistent with the vote that was taken prior to that and we want to make sure that that happens."
Fort Dodge also sought a casino license from the state in the past, but was denied. Iowa has 20 casinos. Three are run by Native American tribes. The other 17 casinos are state-licensed and state regulated.
Hampton city manager, Ron Dunt, spoke on behalf of Hampton and Franklin County. "Make no mistake, the interest level in Franklin County is as high as ever. Please consider granting license to all applicant, especially those who applied previously," Dunt says. He says all the applicants have met the commission’s criteria, and he says the communities need the jobs.
The economic development director for Lyon County, Glen Anderson, says the casino would be a big shot in the arm for the area. Anderson says the average income for residents of Lyon County is approximately $26,700, while the average wage at a casino is $27,500. He says the casinos also offer full benefit packages and that would allow more residents of the county to stay there and work.
Anderson says 40% of the county’s residents now drive outside the county for work. Anderson says 40 to 45-percent of the money in Lyon County "leaks" out to other areas. He says the proposed casino in Larchwood can pull in dollars from nearby Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
He says the location would be five miles from Sioux Falls and says that city would be an asset for bringing dollars back into the county.
The officials from Fort Dodge and Ottumwa made their comments at the start of today’s Racing and Gaming Commission meeting. The commissioners are heard today from two consulting groups that have done gambling studies on the possibility for issuing new gambling licenses. The chair of the commission says they will not make any decision on new licenses at today’s meeting.