Linn County goes on record opposing Wild Rose casino project

'The way this is worded is just really surprising'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The majority of Linn County Supervisors have reaffirmed their support for the proposed Cedar Crossing Casino, while also taking shots at the casino’s “boutique” competitor Wild Rose.

Supervisor Brent Oleson, a member of the Linn County Gaming Association, a not-for-profit group formed to apply for the gaming license, proposed the resolution, which he said raises questions of fairness as the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission considers competing casino proposals.

Oleson argued the deck seems stacked in favor of the Wild Rose proposal, despite the public’s 2013 approval of a full-scale casino like that proposed by Cedar Crossing.

“If we’re going to be dealt a hand of cards on our casino application, it can’t be perceived the other side has an ace up their sleeve,” Oleson said. “The citizens aren’t being dealt a fair hand.”

The resolution caught more than a few officials with Wild Rose off guard, spokesman Jamie Buelt said Wednesday.

“It seems like a very strident move ... the way this is worded is just really surprising,” Buelt said. “We’ve seen a public body take a position to support something, but we haven’t seen something disparage a private business partnership.”

Wild Rose’s Buelt said she has reached out to the county board to pursue a dialogue on the resolution — which supervisors approved Wednesday 3-1, with Supervisors John Harris opposed and Ben Rogers absent.

The resolution cites an “appearance of undue influence” caused after Wild Rose officials — including Chairman Gary Kirke — provided access to a private jet and hosted a fundraiser for Gov. Kim Reynolds.

However, Buelt said the resolution paints Wild Rose as an out-of-town entity and fails to mention that Wild Rose not only is aimed at supporting downtown Cedar Rapids, but the proposal will use local contractors and donate to local not-for-profits.

Supervisor Harris said he had reservations with some of the wording in Oleson’s resolution, namely clauses mentioning Gov. Reynolds.

“It appears to me that inside the resolution is the county picking winners and losers in a decision that is coming up with the Iowa gaming board, and also I believe makes claims of impropriety of the governor and the gaming board. It is for those reasons and others that I can’t support this resolution today,” Harris said.

Oleson responded that the resolution doesn’t allege unfair dealings to the Wild Rose proposal, but rather raises the concern of perceived favoritism.

Supervisor James Houser said he, too, was uncomfortable with some of the political aspects of the county resolution, but added he supported the overall resolution.

Supervisor Stacey Walker also voted in favor of the resolution. While he has been opposed to any casino project. Walker acknowledged that 61 percent of voters approved a casino effort in 2013.

Both the city and county have signed memorandums of understanding that forbid the entities from backing any third-party casinos not approved by the Cedar Rapids Development Group, which is made up of Cedar Crossing investors and the Linn County Gaming Association.

While Cedar Rapids leaders openly have supported the Cedar Crossing proposal, they have not outwardly opposed the Wild Rose option.

The Linn County resolution goes on to say the board supports two options — the approval of a state gaming license for Cedar Crossing or denying any license at this time.

The head of the Cedar Rapids Development Group, Steve Gray, applauded the board in a Wednesday email.

“The Cedar Crossing team is investing nearly three times as much in Cedar Rapids as our competitor, and we are fully committed to building a premium facility that will serve as an entertainment destination,” he said. “We trust that the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission — after carefully weighing the applications, presentations, public comments and market studies — will make the right decision for the Iowa gaming industry, Linn County and all Iowans.”

Proposed by a venture between

Peninsula Pacific Partnership and Cedar Rapids Development Group put forward two proposals:

l Cedar Crossing would be a $106 million skydeck casino over the Fourth Street NE railroad tracks and attached to the Double Tree Hotel, U.S. Cellular Center and a new parking ramp.

l A larger $169 million Cedar Crossing on the River would go just west of downtown, at First Street and First Avenue SW. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission in 2014 rejected a Cedar Crossing application.

The $42 million “boutique” casino is being proposed by local developers and executives from Wild Rose Entertainment, which has casinos in Emmetsburg, Clinton and Jefferson.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission on Sept. 26 will attend site visits and hold public comment sessions for the casino proposals.

The five-member Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, an independent state panel appointed by the governor, plans to come to a decision in November on the gaming license applications tied to the casino projects.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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