The chair of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission says any talk by regulators about a new state-licensed casino in Ankeny in central Iowa is premature. Ankeny is commission chair Jeff Lamberti’s hometown, and he says that would not be a factor for him if the issue does move forward.

“Being a resident of Ankeny, I kind of keep that completely separate of any commission business, that’s really not an appropriate consideration. And surprisingly, I really haven’t had any citizens of Ankeny talk to me about it,” Lamberti says.

“I think that whether it’s in Ankeny or somewhere else in Polk County, it’s got to go through the normal process.” The normal process is just getting underway with Wild Rose Entertainment, which currently operates casinos in Emmetsburg and Clinton making a proposal to build a casino in Ankeny. There’s also opposition to the proposal.

Lamberti says the commission can’t do anything until plans get much farther along. “And we’ve got something similar going on in Cedar Rapids where there is talk of a referendum, but again not yet right for us to do anything,” he says. “If it gets we’ll do what we would normally do, which would be studies and consider, but we’re just kind of monitoring it at this point.”

The Racing and Gaming Commission last approved a new license for a casino in northwest Iowa in 2010, while also rejecting requests from groups in Tama County and Fort Dodge for licenses. The commission members cited a concern over whether the gambling market was saturated in their reasoning for approving just one license.

“And I think at that point they kind of gave their feelings that we probably wouldn’t be looking at expansion for I think they said three to five years, and we are kind of at the lower side of that. And I think each commissioner would have to decide if they were interested,” Lamberti says. “I just don’t think really anything has progressed far enough for us to even have the serious discussion of: is there anybody on the commission interested in expansion?, is there a market available for expansion? We just haven’t gotten that far at this point.”

Lamberti says the commission would look at any proposal if it advances far enough. “There is no outright moratorium or anything like that, and I think we have to handle each of the situations on their own merits and decide what king of study, investigation, we want to do. And I think you are going to find five members with five different opinions at this point,” Lamberti says.

The operators of Prairie Meadows Race Track and Casino in Altoona are opposed to any new casino in Polk County. Praire Meadows recently completed a $35-million hotel and an $11-million casino expansion. The commission also approved Thursday another remodeling project that will spend $30-million over the next two years to remodel the existing areas of the casino.