116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Note: Staff editorials represent the consensus view of The Gazette’s editorial board. Read more about the process: Previewing The Gazette’s 2021 election endorsements
Cedar Rapids deserves a casino.
Ultimately, that decision is out of our hands — it’s up to state regulators. But to keep the dream alive, voters must approve the Nov. 2 referendum to renew the county’s casino gambling authorization. The Gazette editorial board endorses “yes” on the referendum.
Linn County is the most populous county in the state with no casino. Five of Iowa’s 10 largest counties have casinos. Scott, Dubuque and Pottawatomie have multiple casinos.
We know Linn County residents are going out of town to spend money. Proponents of expanded gambling point to the license plate test — go south to Riverside or north the Isle Waterloo and you will see plenty of cars from other counties. Cedar Rapids is not getting its fair share of the economic stimulus, tax revenue and nonprofit donations that come with hosting a casino.
In the editorial board’s recent meetings with candidates for city council and mayor, there was no opposition to the referendum. Even the candidates who don’t particularly like casinos recognize that it would be a boon for Cedar Rapids. There is no organized “no” faction for the upcoming vote.
If it ever comes to fruition, a casino would be a major asset for all of Linn County. It would increase local tax revenue, draw in visitors from around the region, generate millions of dollars for local nonprofits and act as a cornerstone for other development. Importantly, planners have committed 8 percent of revenue to philanthropy, far above past commitments.
Officials have voiced support for a potential casino in or near downtown Cedar Rapids. That would make it a big attraction in the Midwest, where most casinos are in outlying areas.
By more than a 20-point margin, voters approved a referendum in 2013 to authorize Linn County gambling. However, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission rejected Cedar Rapids casino proposals in 2014 and 2017.
The industry landscape has changed since then. Nebraska is in the process of liberalizing its gambling laws to allow for casinos and there are plans to open one in neighboring Omaha. And Iowa has legalized sports betting, which expands gambling opportunities both in casinos and at home through the internet. It’s not totally clear whether those are pluses or minuses for the prospect of a Cedar Rapids casino, but they might be factors.
Membership in the gaming commission also has changed since then. No one knows how they will respond to another bid but we think it’s worth another shot.
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