116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
We now know the scope of the casino project Cedar Rapids would be denied after swift action by the Iowa Legislature just before adjournment to approve a two-year moratorium on new gambling licenses.
Local casino investors and supporters released plans for a $250 million, 160,000 square-foot casino and entertainment project that would be built on the west side of the river downtown. Gambling venue would be located at the former site of the Cooper’s Mill hotel.
The casino would have 800 to 1,100 gambling machines and 40 to 60 table games. But much of the facility will be devoted to non-gambling attractions, including restaurants, bars and a 1,500-seat entertainment venue. One feature, The Clubhouse by Zach Johnson would be a sportsbook, taproom and restaurant.
The facility would provide an estimated $5 million to $7 million in donations to local nonprofits.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the project is that it will provide flood protection across its expanse of adjacent riverfront. Flood control features are still being designed.
But the plan will have to be put on a two-year hold if state lawmakers who supported the moratorium get their way. The proposal popped up from the behind the scenes in the final hours of the legislative session without explanation or debate. Its origin is unknown, but all signs point to an effort by existing casino interests to thwart a Cedar Rapids facility and the competition it would bring.
Past license moratoriums have been put in place and lifted by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, a panel appointed by the governor to regulate gambling and make decisions on which projects get state licenses. The Legislature has been reluctant to usurp the commission’s authority until now.
The commission makes its decisions on licensing based on public presentations, professional market evaluations, site visits and public hearings. Lawmakers made their call based on insider connections, campaign donations and political considerations, and largely out of public view.
As we’ve said, it’s a bad precedent. And it provides plenty of reasons for Gov. Kim Reynolds to veto gambling regulatory bill to which the moratorium was attached. Cedar Rapids casino backers should have access to the licensing process.
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