Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett says the next stop in trying to win a casino for his city could be in Des Moines. State regulators voted 4-1 last month against awarding a license to developers for a proposed casino in downtown Cedar Rapids. “With the Racing and Gaming Commission turning us down, really our only chance is to see if we can get some legislative relief. The chairman of the Racing and Gaming Commission — chairman (Jeff) Lamberti — has already suggested that the legislature may want to weigh in as far as future gambling licenses,” Corbett says.
Corbett is a former legislator, and says getting such issues passed in the legislature isn’t always easy, though he says lawmakers have recently reached agreement on things like property tax reform and education reform. “We feel that Iowa’s second-largest city deserves a license, our public supported it overwhelmingly. Right now the Racing and Gaming Commission has taken a more of the ‘protect the cartel attitude’ versus free market competition,” Corbett says. “I think we might be able to state our case a little bit better in front of the legislature a little bit better than we did before the Racing and Gaming Commission.”
Racing and Gaming commissioners said they feared the impact of a new casino on existing facilities and Corbett sees that argument coming up again at the capitol. “There are legislators that represent existing markets that would be less than likely to support anything for Cedar Rapids. They would probably take a protectionist view,” Corbett says.
He says they will push the case for a more open system of handing out gambling licenses. “If you’re not going to open up to a free market you have a monopoly where you are protecting the existing industry. And normally in a monopoly market — say like in electric or gas — then you rate regulate it and you give a certain return to the monopolies for the overall public good,” Corbett says.
Corbett says they believe a new Cedar Rapids casino would boost the industry overall. “We think that the industry as a whole has kind of plateaued and it would have been good to have a new urban casino breathe some new life into a somewhat stagnant industry right now,” Corbett says. The Racing and Gaming Commission will decide in June whether to award a gambling license for a proposed casino in Greene County. Commission chair Jeff Lamberti said the commission will at that time give their views on future expansion of gambling.