4 to 1Casino business as usual
COUNCIL BLUFFS — A contingent of people from Washington County were in the meeting where the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted 4-1 today to deny a gaming license to a firm wishing to build a $164 million casino in Linn County.
Washington County Riverboat Foundation president Patty Koller and member Ed Raber attended the meeting, held at the Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, and were present when the five racing and gaming commissioners voted on the proposal to grant the Cedar Rapids Development Group a gaming license. Raber had previously said that if the Cedar Rapids casino was constructed, the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort could lose up to 40 percent of its revenue and would have had to lay off 250 employees.
“This is very positive for the Riverboat Foundation and very positive for Washington County,” Koller said. “I wanted to be present to hear the vote. I am very pleased.”
During the decision, the commissioners spoke on their reasons for voting the way they did. Commissioner Dolores Mertz cast the sole vote to grant the license, citing strong community support in Cedar Rapids.
Dan Kehl, the CEO of the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, said that he is happy the commission made the decision it did and is “grateful to have this behind us.” He said that his firm now has remodeling to do at the Riverside Casino and a water park to build in Davenport.
“I don’t know what they will do,” Kehl said, when asked if he felt the Cedar Rapids bid was over. “I think the commission sent a clear message that eastern Iowa is saturated.”
Previously, Kehl had told the commissioners that if the Cedar Rapids casino was allowed to be built, it could have put the entire Riverside operation in jeopardy.
Both Washington County and the City of Riverside share 0.5 percent revenue from the casino — about $400,000 each annually — which is used to offset property taxes.
Riverside Mayor Bill Poch said that he believed Kehl’s group was confident that the result would be positive for the casino, but that Poch was not sure. He said that when people had been asking him how he thought the commission would vote, he had been saying it would be a coin toss.
“I think this will positively impact everyone in Washington County,” he said. “The Riverboat Foundation gives $3 million to nonprofits in the county, and some outside of the county, every year. They will be able to maintain that and provide a solid economic boost.”
Poch said that he feels that the vote “isn’t a cause for celebration, but a cause for being thankful that the commission voted the way they did.” He said that he feels the vote was for all Iowans and the commission made the decision because eastern Iowa was close to saturation with gaming.
Washington County supervisor Stan Stoops said he was surprised by the decision, based on construction having already begun in Cedar Rapids and the proposed site of the casino. He said that he felt the Linn County casino would be approved. He said that he was pleasantly surprised by the decision and that it would benefit the people of Washington County.
Raber said that he had closely predicted the outcome. He had thought the vote would be 3-2. As the director of the Washington Economic Development Group, which works with businesses in Cedar Rapids, he said that it is his hope that everyone can now move on.
Washington city administrator Brent Hinson also attended the meeting. He said that he felt the commission made the right decision, based on the studies and facts in front of them.
The projected revenue loss at the casino was based on two reports ordered by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.