Cedar Rapids casino proposal to be discussed this week

Casino management firm may be in place within two weeks

The $100 million casino proposed for a spot across the Cedar River from downtown here is surfacing this week on the agenda of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, the all-important five-member board that will decide in the months ahead if it will grant the proposed casino a license to operate.

Brian Ohorilko, the commission’s administrator, said this week that the intent of placing the Cedar Rapids casino proposal on the commission agenda is "to give members an opportunity to share their thoughts" on a license for a Cedar Rapids casino.

Drew Skogman, vice president of Skogman Homes and one of the investors in the Cedar Rapids casino project, on Tuesday said he will attend the Thursday commission meeting at Lakeside Hotel Casino in Osceola, Iowa, to answer any questions that the commission might have about the Cedar Rapids proposal. However, he said he did not expect that members of the investor group, led by him and Cedar Rapids businessman Steve Gray, will speak to the commission unless asked to speak.

Skogman said his expectation is that the commission will announce that it will accept new applications for a state casino license and then set a deadline, perhaps in August or September, for applications to be submitted to the commission.

Jeff Lamberti, the commission’s chairman, has said in recent months that he anticipated that the commission would allow new license applications. He also has said that he expects the commission to conduct one or two studies to see if another new casino or casinos is justified in the state without harming any of the 18 existing state-license gaming venues.

Eventually, the commission is expected to hear a heated debate between the Cedar Rapids casino investors and casino owners and casino communities in Riverside and Waterloo, and perhaps elsewhere, over the impact of a Cedar Rapids casino on existing casinos.

Skogman on Tuesday said he did not expect any other Iowa community to submit an application for a new casino license. A casino proposal in Warren County south of Des Moines failed to secure voter backing in May.

Skogman said the Cedar Rapids casino investors, which are doing business as Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, would submit their license application on the deadline date if the commission sets such a date in August or September. It may submit sooner than the commission deadline if the commission sets a deadline date for later in the year, he said.

"After Thursday, (the commission meeting) is going to shed some light on what the commission wants to see and the timeline, and we’ll be going fast to try to meet it," Skogman said.

He added that he felt optimistic about his investor group’s proposal.

"We’ve done all out studies and feel good about them," Skogman said. "… The city has been very supportive. At this point, I feel were going to make a strong case."

Skogman and Gray have said they are in negotiations with a casino management firm to operate the casino, and Skogman on Tuesday said an agreement may be announced within two weeks.

In mid-May, Gray told the Cedar Rapids City Council that the casino investor group had grown to some 150 investors, up from an initial group of about 60. He said the management firm hired by the investors will invest in the casino as well, though he said the local group would maintain a majority ownership interest.

The City Council is currently seeking proposals to sell 7.5 acres of city-owned property — which the city acquired through its flood-recovery buyout program — that the casino investors want to buy for the casino. The investors also have purchased some private properties in the area between First Avenue and Second Avenue SE and First and Third streets SW where the casino is proposed to be located. The investors also want to build a parking ramp between Interstate 380 and First Avenue West and a skywalk across First Avenue between the ramp and casino.

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