Meskwakis mix it up with Cedar Rapids casino group

Tribe says new venue will harm their casino and others

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CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s no secret that investors pushing for a new Cedar Rapids casino don’t and won’t agree on how much business a new casino here will cannibalize from existing casinos in Eastern Iowa.

As proof, Frank Black Cloud, tribal chairman of the Meskwaki Nation, is objecting to comments made last week by Steve Gray, who is leading the Cedar Rapids casino effort and who said last week that a new Cedar Rapids casino won’t do much damage to existing casinos.

Specifically, Gray said a Cedar Rapids casino would generate $80 million a year in revenue, only $18 million of which would come from business now going to existing casinos.

“These numbers simply are not true,” Black Cloud said in a statement and Tom Jochum, government affairs lobbyist for the tribe, repeated on Monday.

A Cedar Rapids casino will harm existing casinos more severely, they said.

Last week, Gray also noted that half of the $18 million in lost business at other casinos would come from the Meskwaki casino in Tama County, noting that the Indian casino operates outside the state-controlled, state-licensed, state-taxed group of 18 gambling venues.

“Why did he highlight our lost revenues, but not the others?” Black Cloud asked.

Black Cloud said Gray’s comments “strongly implied” that cannibalization of business from existing casinos is acceptable “as long as it mainly comes from the tribe.”

Gray’s comments, Jochum said, had a “cynical implication” toward the Meskwakis, who use their gaming profits to support a tribal school system and tribal health care system among other things, he said.

Gray on Monday said his comments were intended to be factual, nothing more. He said the market analysis by his group, Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, determined that the impact of a Cedar Rapids casino would be felt most by the Meskwaki casino, he said.

Deal discussed

The current public back-and-forth between the tribe and the Cedar Rapids investor group comes after both sides on Monday revealed that they had been in discussions in recent months and until recently about participating together in a Cedar Rapids casino.

Jochum pointed out that the Meskwakis’ initial reaction last summer to news of a possible Cedar Rapids casino did not prompt the tribe to prepare to fight the proposal and defend its casino in Tama County. Instead, the tribe arranged to meet with the Gray group to investigate their mutual interests, Jochum said.

It was the tribe that decided it didn’t want to invest in the Gray-led proposal, Jochum said.

Gray, who said he also has had discussions with casino owners in Dubuque and Riverside about investing in a Cedar Rapids casino, put it this way about the Meskwakis: “They determined it was better to fight us through the referendum (in Linn County on March 5) and in front of the Racing and Gaming Commission.”

Jochum said the tribe hasn’t decided yet if it would make its case in front of the state commission, which must grant a Cedar Rapids casino a license should Linn County voters approve casino gambling in Linn County at a March 5 referendum.

The owners of other Eastern Iowa casinos, though, are expected to fight a Cedar Rapids casino.

Last summer, Dan Kehl, CEO of the 6-year-old Riverside Casino & Golf Resort south of Iowa City, objected to the prospect of a Cedar Rapids casino, saying it “would devastate” the Riverside casino because many of its customers come from the Cedar Rapids area.

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