The proposal from Lyon County was the only one chosen today to receive a new gambling license by the Racing and Gaming Commission. Dan Kehl is the C.E.O. of Kehl Managment, which put the plan together. “We felt like we had a great project that met all the commission’s criteria, uh still very nervous, but we felt very good about where were were at,” Kehl said.
One of the few concerns raised about the Lyon County project was the number of Iowans who’ll be hired to work at the facility that is close to the South Dakota border. Kehl says there’s a very small population base in Lyon County and they have some 700 jobs to fill, but he says it remains to be seen if people will move there to take a job with the casino. Kehl’s plans include a 120-million dollar casino and golf resort to be built near Larchwood. If all goes according to plan, it could open in the summer of 2011.
For three other communities, they put in years of planning and thousands of dollars in expenses to come away empty handed. It was the second time Fort Dodge was turned down for a license. Mayor Matt Bemrich says they were unable to overcome concerns about the impact on the existing casino in Palo Alto County.
“Disappointed, saddened for my community and the community of Webster County, I think it was the wrong decision,” Bemrich says, “I think we had a great application, I think we proved that cannibalization was not an issue. I believe that the powers that be in Emmetsburg were able to definitely shift the votes and get the commissioners to believe that cannibalization was an issue.”
Questions were raised at the public hearing about how many people in the community actually supported the casino — but Bemrich says he had no doubts. Bemrich says the consensus was given in the referendum when 57-percent of the citizens in the county voted for gambling and he says another survey shows that number would be higher now. “So I believe the citizens were not represented by the commission today,” Bemrich says.
Ottumwa also lost out on a license for the second time. Ken Mimmack is the C-E-O of Ingenus management, the group that sought a gambling license this time around. “We’ll certainly very disappointed, we have a fabulous project in Ottumwa and we have fabulous support from all those folks down there, and they’re really deserving,” Mimmack says. He says they hope to have a chance in the future to reconsider a license in Ottumwa.
Mimmack says the Wapello County project also faced concerns about its impact on existing casinos. Mimmack says all of the discussion by the commissioners started with cannibalization, as he says they are worried about the economy and the existing enterprises, as some of the existing casinos have seen declining revenues.
John Pavone, is president of Signature Management, which sought to put a casino in Tama County. Pavone says they are “very disappointed” as they thought they had a very good project. He says the commissioners had a very difficult decision to make given all the information and the time period. The financing for the Tama project was a big concern among commissioners. Pavone says it did have an impact on their plan.
Pavone says they are still “a little bit confused” because they have three letter of commitment for the debt and a commitment for the equity, and a hotel company. “So we’re still a little bit confused as the lack of communication there, but it seems like we’re in good company, unfortunately,” Pavone said in reference to concerns raised about the financing for two other projects. The commissioners said they would likely not consider new licenses again for at least three to five years.