Iowa gaming panel open to proposals for new casinos in state

Cedar Rapids investors circulating petition

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JOHNSTON — The state may not be at “critical mass” for casino licenses, but it’s pretty close, the chairman of the state’s gaming regulatory board said Friday.

Jeff Lamberti said “there is no moratorium” on licenses in the state and the Racing and Gaming Commission will look at any proposal that comes before it. He did say, however, that the commission looks hard at if a new casino would eat into an existing customer base or draw in new customers.

“This is a pretty mature industry in Iowa,” Lamberti said after the taping Friday of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program.

A group of investors is circulating a petition calling for a vote May 7 to allow casino gambling in Linn County. Cedar Rapids is the largest metropolitan area in the state without a casino.

Backers need to collect 11,872 signatures — 10 percent of the 118,711 people who voted in Linn County on Nov. 6 — to prompt the Board of Supervisors to call a countywide vote on gambling.

In 2010, the gaming commission said that it thought the state had reached the saturation point for casinos except, perhaps, in the Des Moines metro area. The commission said then that it wanted to wait three to five years before it considers any new casino licenses.

Lamberti, a former state senator from Ankeny. said he is unsure if the commission will entertain a new round of license applications any time soon,

Lamberti said he expected the Cedar Rapids investors would likely follow with an application if a gambling referendum passes.

“So if we get applications ... we know at that point we will have to at least study it in those areas,” Lamberti said. “I know once that is even being discussed, you’re going to have others that have an interest.

“So if we’re going to take that step my guess is the commission will want to update all of the economic studies to see where this industry is,” he said.

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