116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
This is no way to run the Iowa Legislature.
On Tuesday, the Iowa Senate tacked an amendment onto a gambling regulatory bill ordering a two-year moratorium on the issuance of new casino licenses in Iowa. The provision popped from a backroom and was swiftly passed without argument or explanation.
Backers of a Cedar Rapids casino, who were preparing to unveil their plans for a local gaming facility next week were blindsided by the surprise move. Lobbyists for Cedar Rapids and Linn County didn’t get a chance to register their opposition until after the measure had already passed the Senate. By the end of the day, it had also swiftly passed the House and was on its way to Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Regardless of whether you support or oppose a local casino, this is a deeply flawed way to make law. Speed and secrecy should never be part of the legislative process. This brand of lawmaking yields misguided policy and short-circuits representative democracy by leaving no time for affected Iowans to react.
Iowa has a Racing and Gaming Commission appointed by the governor and intended to handle the licensing of casinos. Cedar Rapids investors and thousands of Linn County voters who supported gambling through two referendums hoped to once again navigate the commission’s process with the goal of receiving a state license after previous failed attempts.
But the Legislature stepped in at the eleventh hour to thwart the process.
Who sought this moratorium? The answer isn’t clear. But it’s a good bet that the owners of existing casinos in Riverside and Waterloo had a hand in urging the Legislature to protect their operations from competition from Cedar Rapids. Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, argued that Iowa’s gambling market is saturated and further completion would jeopardize donations to nonprofits from casino revenues.
But it’s the Racing and Gaming Commission’s job to assess the state’s gaming market, as they have done in past licensing processes. With new casinos opening in Nebraska, it’s possible the competitive calculations have changed. Thanks to the Legislature, the calculations won’t be made.
This injection of politics into gaming regulations sets a bad precedent. Cedar Rapids casino backers have vowed to be patient, but after this action, the possibility of an extended moratorium in the future loom large. Reynolds should veto the legislation.
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