Governor Chet Culver has sent state gambling regulators a letter, urging the five-member panel to approve new casinos for four Iowa counties.   “Iowa citizens have gone to the ballot box and voted in favor of additional gaming in four additional counties — Lyon, Webster, Tama and Wapello,” Culver says.

“During the past years I have talked with representatives of each of those communities about their desire to secure a gaming license and their frustration at being denied one by the Racing and Gaming Commission.” Culver says it’s time to end the frustration and break ground on four new Iowa casinos in Fort Dodge, Ottumwa, Tama and near the Iowa/South Dakota border in Larchwood, Iowa.

“Opportunities to create new jobs are difficult to come by and shouldn’t be dismissed easily.  These gaming establishments, like each of the others that have been developed in Iowa, will generate hundreds of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs,” Culver says.  “I am convinced that we should move forward and create these jobs.” 

There are already 17 state-licensed casinos in Iowa and the operators of thoses casinos argue the competition from the four new casinos would dilute the gambling market, hurting existing casinos.  According to the governor, “competition is a good thing” and he says regulators shouldn’t let the arguments of existing casinos win. 

 “Every county that has passed a referendum and received a gaming license, that argument can be made every single time,” Culver says. “For example, Osceola and Prairie Meadows, they could have argued that they were too close together, therefore one of those communities shouldn’t have a license. Well, they let the people win in terms of responding to the local referendum decision.”

Culver says the four communities have spoken “loud and clear” and it’s only “fair” to respond to the wishes of the folks in those areas.

“It’s important that Iowans know that I want to bring these jobs to Lyon, Webster, Wapello and Tama Counties,” Culver says.  “The economic impact of these jobs will be enormous, bringing in more than a quarter of a billion dollars in economic activity and far more in additional, indirect spending in these communities.” 

The Racing and Gaming Commission has  set March 23rd as the date to hear the four counties’ proposals for new casinos.  The Commission will hold a public hearing on new licenses on May 4th, and then make a decision on licenses at a meeting on May 13th.

Culver says he’s not “stayed out” of the debate about new casinos, and during the 2006 campaign Culver said Fort Dodge and Ottumwa should get gambling licenses.  Culver, a Democrat who is seeking reelection this year, is adding Larchwood and Tama to that list.

“I think it’s a matter of fairness and jobs at a time when our state needs it,” Culver says.

Voters in Lyon County approved a gambling reference in 2008.  Just over 62 percent of those who voted endorsed the Larchwood casino proposal.  In 2004, nearly 58 percent of Webster County voters approved a gambling referendum.  Tama County’s gambling referendum passed with 55 percent support in 2006.  And Wapello County passed a gambling referendum in 2003 with 53.5 percent support from voters.

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