Voters in Greene County approved a gambling referendum Tuesday, with 75-percent voting in favor and 25-percent voting against. The vote clears the way for developer Wild Rose Entertainment to seek a gambling license for a proposed $35-million complex at the intersection of U.S. Highway 30 and Iowa Highway four on the north edge of Jefferson.
The Greene County Board of Supervisors and the Jefferson City Council endorsed the project. There was also opposition. Jim Andrew is a farmer and secretary of the group “No Casino Greene County.” Andrew says he’s disappointed they failed to defeat the referendum, but they knew it would be like the Biblical “David versus Goliath” battle going in.
“We raised our money locally — all five thousand dollars — and put it to use against 51-thousand dollars that came in from Wild Rose Entertainment in Des Moines. And apparently the promises made to the electorate were so tempting and we weren’t able to make our arguments in view of that and such, we’re of the opinion that the electorate has spoken and we will honor what they have said,” Andrew says. The referendum vote does not ensure a casino will be built in Greene County, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission still has to approve a gambling license. Andrew says his group will not lobby the commission.
“We had some earlier discussions on that matter, and it was our intent that as of today, we would pay our bills and dissolve as an organization,” Andrew says, “however, individuals were free if they so chose to make their own case, but we as an organization do not intend to continue to oppose.” Andrew admits the large margin of the vote was a little surprising.
“I think for many of the people in our group — we’re basically a faith-based group of people — and some of us may be a little bit out of touch with how much cultural norms have changed from when we grew up and the standards from which we were raise. So, this may be a wake up call to us. But, we do live in a democracy, and all we can do is honor their decision,” he concluded.
On the other side, Norm Fandel is with the Greene County Economic Development Corporation. “It was better than I anticipated, it was great. I’m glad that we had the voter turnout and the percentage is what it is — and fantastic,” Fandel says. Fandel doesn’t agree that the disparity in money in the two campaigns was the difference.
“No, I don’t believe that the money had anything to do with that. As far as the yard signs — minimal expense — I think that the people really came together and this was what they wanted. We’ve been very positive in our community over the last several years in moving things forward, and this was just another benefit that we saw in coming together with the casino facility and the 250-plus jobs,” according to Fandel.
The next step is to convince state regulators to give them a gambling license. Fandel believes the results of the referendum will be a good start. “We hope that the numbers really speak for themselves when we come in and says that 50-percent of the people voted, and over 75-percent of the people said yes,” Fandel says.
“And we hope that the gaming commission takes a look at that and says this is a united community and this is an area where maybe the next casino needs to be at.” The vote in favor of gambling comes three months after voters in Warren County turned down a referendum with 60-percent of the vote.
The Racing and Gaming Commission plans to conduct market surveys to determine if there is the potential for new casinos without hurting the ones that are already operating. The surveys are expected to be completed by early next year.