'Up to the people' whether legal gambling expands in Iowa, Branstad says

Governor, a gambling opponent, says he thinks 'it's worked out quite well'

Gov. Terry Branstad said Friday that it is “up to the people to decide” whether Iowa should expand its gambling opportunities.

Branstad, a gambling opponent who previously signed legislation establishing a state lottery and high-stakes casino gaming at state-licensed parimutuel tracks and riverboats due to strong public support, deferred the question of whether Iowa should authorize more gaming enterprises to voters in communities with gaming referenda and the state Racing and Gaming Commission.

“First of all, I think it’s critically important that the Racing and Gaming Commission protect the integrity of the state. I think we’ve been very blessed that we’ve had good and strict management,” said Branstad, who noted he had “some real concerns” regarding legalized gambling but bowed to public sentiment in ushering a wave of gambling opportunities in Iowa.

“I just wanted to keep it honest and clean and I wanted to keep corruption out,” said Branstad, who spoke to reporters Friday during and after the taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” show. “For the most part, I think it’s worked out quite well.”

Iowa currently has 15 state-licensed riverboats and three state-licensed racetrack casinos operating around the state, as well as three tribal casinos not subject to state regulations. Several communities, including Cedar Rapids, have been approached by investors interested in establishing new gambling enterprises and a March 5 special election has been slated in Linn County to let voters decide if they want to authorize casino gaming in their community.

Branstad noted that a number of Iowa cities have revitalized their downtown areas with the aid of gambling enterprises, however, he said “it’s up to the people to decide” if they want to approve gaming and then it’s up to state regulators to decide if they want to open a new round of license applications.

“I just want to make sure that the people that serve on that commission recognize that their responsibility is not to promote gambling, but to protect the integrity of the state and see that it is managed in an honest and fair way,” he said. “I think they have done that very well. I have confidence in the people that are on that board.”

Branstad noted that Iowa has avoided gambling-related corruption that has taken place in other states like Illinois, Louisiana, South Carolina and Arizona.

“I’m proud of that. I want to keep it that way,” said the five-term Republican.

On other topics during and after the IPTV taping, Branstad:

  • Sidestepped questions whether he would seek an unprecedented sixth, four-year term, saying he currently is focused on policy not politics and would make that decision in 2014;
  • Said he is encouraged by state Board of Regents’ efforts to make tuition at Iowa’s three state universities more affordable and “proud” to include funding in his fiscal 2014 budget proposal designed to help make a tuition freeze possible next year.
  • Said he thought “it was a mistake” for the regents to “rush through” the Harkin Institute for Public Policy at Iowa State University but he supported ISU President Steven Leath’s efforts to deal with problems that have surfaced. “I thought they should have waited and studied it more and had more information,” he added.
  • Reiterated that state must first pass an education reform package before he’ll consider how much money to spend on K-12 public schools, noting “the history of the Legislature is they’ll spend all their time fighting over money instead of passing the substantive education reform policies that we need.”
  • Said he did not include any state personal or corporate income tax reductions in his 2013 legislative plan because the immediate priority is reducing commercial/industrial property taxes and capping growth in residential and agricultural property taxes. He said if state revenues continue to exceed expectations, he likely would propose income tax cuts in the future but he doubt Democrats who control the Iowa Senate would pass anything this year and he noted Iowa taxpayers will be able to offset their higher federal income tax liabilities by deducting them on their state tax returns.

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