Senate swiftly folds on Horn's 'Healthy Family Gambling'

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State Sen. Wally Horn played one last card.

Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, tried late Friday afternoon to force the Iowa Senate to vote on granting a casino license to Cedar Rapids. Eight days earlier, the Racing and Gaming Commission denied a license for the Cedar Crossing casino. But, apparently, in Horn’s estimation, this thing isn’t over until we say it is. Or something like that.

His angle? Iowa needs smoke-free “healthy family gambling.”

Horn, who is serving his 42nd year in the Legislature, rose to offer an amendment to a bill providing a $72 million “soft landing” for Iowa’s fading greyhound racing industry. Wagering on dog racing has dropped 97 percent since the mid-80s, so naturally, rather than letting it die a good, free-market death, we’re again taking the sting out of competition. Wonder how many other declining industries would like a soft landing?

Under Horn’s plan, the Racing and Gaming Commission “shall” grant a license to any applications for a casino within a city with more than 50,000 people, and smoking would be prohibited. Nice and simple.

“Now, the Racing and Gaming Commission recently ruled against a casino in Cedar Rapids based upon cannibalism. I just want to point out that I don’t understand that part, so we needed some kind of a uniqueness,” Horn said.

(You can watch a video of Horn’s full remarks here. His portion starts around the 39:40 mark)

Then the senator, who handled some of the earliest gambling bills in the 1980s, waxed nostalgic. When lawmakers first allowed casinos on riverboats that actually cruised, gamblers would take a ride and could lose no more than $200 worth of what Horn called “funny money.” Heck, 10 percent of the boat was set aside for kids.

“So you can see where the gaming racing commission has permitted us to go,” Horn said.

With, to be fair, several big legislative assists, senator.

“And they’ve permitted almost all of the (casinos on) lakes and rivers to go to inland and build big casinos. When Cedar Rapids said we’d like to compete with them, the gaming and racing commission said no, absolutely not!” Horn said.

Non-smoking would be unique, Horn argued, and people want it. “We think it would be an attraction for the state of Iowa. It would be the healthy thing to do. And it would be economic development for Cedar Rapids. We still need that,” Horn said.

“I would like to see us give Cedar Rapids another opportunity to have healthy family gambling in Iowa,” Horn said. Indeed the “Healthy Family Casino” would be a totally new niche.

I’ve heard many folks argue that making Cedar Crossing non-smoking would have increased its chances for approval. And investors considered the idea early on.

But what they found out fast is that non-smoking is a non-starter. That’s because the last thing the current casino cartel wants is a successful smoke-free casino. If that happens, the Legislature surely will take away the industry’s exclusive indoor puffing monopoly. Perish the thought, along with some gamblers and employees.

And Horn’s amendment went up in smoke without a vote. Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, argued it was not “germane” to the greyhound bill. Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, agreed. Healthy family gambling remains only a dream.

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