A bill that would give Cedar Rapids another shot at landing a state-licensed casino has cleared a senate subcommittee. Gary Grant, a lobbyist for the City of Cedar Rapids, is calling on legislators to decide whether state gambling regulators should reject license applications over fears a new casino would hurt existing casinos.
“We understand that what we’re asking is an incredibly uphill climb and there may not be an appetite to do what we’re asking you to do, but we do think that it is time for the legislature to review the future of the gaming industry in Iowa,” Grant said.
The bill would require the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to issue a state license for a new “smoke-free” casino. Frank Chiodo is a lobbyist for the casino in Riverside which he said would be “economically devastated” by a nearby casino in Cedar Rapids.
“So we have major concerns in regards to this,” Chiodo said. “We believe it goes around the Racing and Gaming Commission.”
Susan Cameron, a lobbyist for the Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, warned there’d be a financial hit to the state if Iowa gambling regulators grant another casino license.
“We do think there is a lot at stake for the state in that we do pay very high taxes off the top and that comes back to the state in revenues,” Cameron said.
Senator Wally Horn, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, was the subcommittee’s chairman. Horn told the lobbyists capitalism is all about competition.
“I don’t know if Casey’s talked to Kum N Go when they decided to (enter into) competition or not. I don’t think so,” Horn said at the end of the subcommittee meeting. “…These other gaming places that say: ‘Hey, it’s going to hurt us,” — probably, but we’re going to have competition. It’s going to be better for the people going there winning money.”
The two other members of the subcommittee came from areas which already have state-licensed casinos and one of them supported giving Cedar Rapids another chance at a casino. Senator Dick Dearden, a Democrat from Des Moines, said Cedar Rapids deserved the “economic advantage” of a casino, to recover from devastating flooding.
“I really felt that Cedar Rapids got shortchanged,” Dearden said. “There’s no community in the state of Iowa that suffered as much as they did in ’08.”
But Senator Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City who was also on the subcommittee, opposed the bill. Bertrand said it is the job of the Racing and Gaming Commission to “protect the health” of the casino industry and he said denying a license to Cedar Rapids was the right decision.
“I feel for my friends in Cedar Rapids and the economic impact it would have,” Bertrand said. “but at this point, I just think we need to respect the gaming industry, their decisions and the process.”
The smoke-free casino bill is now eligible for a committee vote in the senate. A lobbyist for the City of Fort Dodge says they’ll try to amend the bill so Fort Dodge could compete against Cedar Rapids for the state’s first “smoke-free” casino license.