116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County voters have again approved gambling in the county, setting the stage for local interests to seek a state license for a casino, probably within the next year.
“This is the first step. A box we had to check,” Linn County Gaming Association President Anne Parmley said as she watched results come in at the Double Z Bar and Grill on Ellis Boulevard NW. “It’s a bridge we have to cross.”
Unofficial election results Tuesday showed Public Measure G winning about 54.7 to 45.3 percent, the Linn County Auditor’s Office reported.
That’s a smaller margin than a similar referendum eight years ago when 61 percent of voters gave gaming interests the go-ahead to seek a license for a Linn County casino. A significant difference from 2013 is that this measure allows Cedar Rapids — or any city in Linn County — to apply for a license from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission in perpetuity, meaning the matter would never come before voters again.
The margin was less important than the outcome, Parmley said.
“We’re excited about the win,” she said as supporters celebrated at the watch party.
However, voter approval is hardly a guarantee there will be a casino in the county anytime soon. Gaming interests would have to persuade the five-member gaming commission to grant a license. The commission rejected proposals from Cedar Rapids in 2014 and 2017, citing concerns that a casino in the state’s second-largest city would “cannibalize” the market, which includes casinos in Waterloo and Riverside, both within an hour’s drive from Cedar Rapids.
The local gaming association is hopeful for better results the next time. There are four new commissioners and Gov. Kim Reynolds will appoint the fifth, perhaps this month.
Also, they believe a statewide market study the commission should receive early in 2022 will bolster the argument that rather than draw revenue from other venues, a casino here would expand the state’s gaming market.
The city of Cedar Rapids has an agreement through 2029 with the Cedar Rapids Development Group to exclusively support its application, should it apply for a license to operate a casino.
No location for a casino has been secured, but the association’s preference is in downtown Cedar Rapids. It would be an economic driver not solely due of the casino, but because the additional entertainment options that happen around it. The additional amenities should make it easier to attract and retain residents, supporters argue.
An agreement between Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, which would operate a casino here, and the gaming association to pledge 8 percent of net revenue — twice what the state requires — to area nonprofits could be worth $6 million annually, the association said. Another agreement between the development group and local trade unions helped show that the parties “want to be community partners,” Parmley added.
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