Supporters of a new casino for Cedar Rapids hope to get the go-ahead from Linn County voters this winter.
Marcia Rogers, a spokeswoman for the “Vote Yes Linn County” group, says they gathered more than 16,000 petition signatures over the past seven weeks — a few thousand more than are required to call for a gambling referendum.
“We were able to far exceed our expectations in terms of numbers of signatures and by being able to submit the petitions now, the Board of Supervisors, when they count then verify the signatures and set a date, they have to, by law, set a date at the next possible referendum date — which would be March 5,” Rogers says.
The Linn County Board of Supervisors meets Wednesday to review the petitions. Under Iowa law, the voters in a county must pass a gambling referendum before casino operators can seek an operating license from the state. A group of investors hopes to secure a license for a casino complex in Cedar Rapids that would cost up to $100 million to build and employ about 360 people full-time once it opens.
A gambling referendum failed in Linn County eight years ago, but Rogers says local investors have taken a new approach this time.
“They went to the Cedar Rapids City Council and the Linn County Board of Supervisors and asked for, basically, a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ that said: ‘If this passes, we want to be the people who drive this project,'” Rogers says. “And I think that’s different than before.”
If Linn County voters approve the gambling referendum, developers would have to secure a license from the state’s Racing and Gaming Commission. The panel has received reports in the past suggesting a Cedar Rapids casino would “cannibalize” surrounding markets by drawing gamblers away from existing casinos in nearby Riverside and Waterloo. Rogers says a “completely different kind of casino” is planned for Cedar Rapids.
“I have not heard any discussion about starting a casino that’s designed to compete with these other casinos,” Rogers says. “We are not going to have a golf course attached or a hotel attached or a spa. I think some people go to those casinos for those extra services. We’re not going to have that.”
Rogers describes the envisioned Cedar Rapids casino as a “smaller-scaled …stand-alone casino” with more of an “urban feel.”
The “Cedar Rapids Development Group” that hopes to open the casino has about 40 members and is headed by local businessman Steve Gray, a former McLeod USA president who has been involved in several private equity firms.
A gambling referendum failed in Cedar Rapids in November of 2003. In the mid-1980s, Cedar Rapids developers had hoped to open a horse racing facility in the city, but the plans never materialized. (Read more about the history of gambling in Iowa here.)