Warren County casino proposal fails at the ballot box

State commissioner readies for Cedar Rapids casino proposal

CEDAR RAPIDS — Jeff Lamberti, chairman of the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission, on Tuesday said the outcome of last night’s vote to allow casino gaming in Warren County just south of Des Moines had little bearing on the prospects for a Cedar Rapids casino to secure a state gaming license.

Voters in Warren County turned down casino gaming in the county by a large margin, 6,545 to 4,327.

A casino development proposal there now dies and won’t make its way to the state commission along with a proposal from a Cedar Rapids casino investor group.

There are 18 state-licensed casinos, and some owners believe a new operation would significantly hurt their venues.

Lamberti on Tuesday said that commission members already have discussed the casino proposal for Cedar Rapids. Linn County voters on March 5 approved casino gaming by a 22-percentage point margin, 61 percent to 39 percent.

He said he expects the commission to conduct at least one and probably two simultaneous studies by different companies of the Cedar Rapids casino market.

Lamberti said he expected the studies to focus on the Cedar Rapids casino project and its effect on other casinos nearby, not on casino gaming across the state. He said the commission also may conduct a separate study or studies to address the impact of a new casino in Central Iowa on existing casinos in that market.

Development interests in Greene County west of Des Moines, he noted, also have suggested that they might ask voters to approve casino gaming.

“We’re trying to get the best evidence because we know as we look at some of these new markets that are out there as potentials, the overriding single most important factor is the impact on existing facilities,” Lamberti said. “We just want to make sure we’re being fair to everybody and that we’re getting the best evidence and information.”

He said the commission intends to make the studies “tight and as specific as possible” to the particular markets where new casinos are being proposed.

He said, too, that most of the five-member commission “don’t think there’s a whole lot of market share left in this state.”

Steve Gray, who is heading up the Cedar Rapids casino proposal as part of a group of 60-plus investors, on Tuesday said he expected the commission to announce in June when it would be ready to take new applications for casino licenses.

In the past, Gray has estimated that a Cedar Rapids casino would bring in $80 million a year in adjusted gross revenue, with $18 million coming from existing casinos. Half of the $18 million would come from the non-state-licensed casino on the Meskwaki Indian Settlement west of Tama, he has said.

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