116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
JOHNSTON — Community support and recent population shifts are among the factors that could play a role in whether state regulators approve a new casino in the Cedar Rapids area, the director of the state’s gaming regulatory body said Friday.
“Community support is a factor,” Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said during the taping of “Iowa Press” at Iowa PBS studios.
“I have been through five of these in different capacities with the commission: very spirited conversations, very difficult decisions.”
Linn County voters in November approved a referendum that clears the way for any community in Linn County to seek a state license to operate a gaming facility. The referendum was supported by 55 percent of voters, less than the 61 percent who approved a similar measure in 2013.
The five-member state commission has twice rejected applications for a new casino in Cedar Rapids, in 2014 and 2017.
Another factor the gaming commissioners weigh is whether a new casino would saturate the market by taking business away from existing casinos in the region.
Casinos operate in Waterloo and Riverside, plus another seven along the Mississippi River. Ohorilko said a 2017 study projected a “significant market impact” by a proposed new casino in Cedar Rapids.
A new market impact study will be conducted for any new Cedar Rapids proposal. The results, Ohorilko said, are not necessarily preordained.
“Five years later we are interested to see what has changed,” Ohorilko said. “The population of Iowa hasn’t really grown, but we have seen a shift to more urban areas.
“And so it will be interesting, and we are waiting to see what these studies show to get a better idea as to if there are any overserved or underserved markets in this state.”
Ohorilko said sports gambling --- legalized in Iowa in 2019 --- generated $6 million in state tax revenue for the state in the most recent budget year.
Seventeen companies are now licensed to conduct online sports betting in Iowa, with four more set to come on board in the coming months.
“It's a very competitive industry right now,” Ohorilko said.
Despite that influx of companies and the money involved, few regulatory issues have come before the commission, Ohorilko said.
“We have had very few regulatory issues,” Ohorilko said. “We will continue to provide regulatory oversight. And it has just been a really good story to this point in time.”
At this point, 80 percent to 90 percent of sports wagering in Iowa is done online, said Wes Ehrecke, president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, which represents the state’s 19 state-licensed casinos.
When asked whether online sports wagering may lead to a broader expansion of online betting --- which has been approved in six states --- Ehrecke said the association remains neutral on the topic but that he does not expect any Iowa legislation on the topic next year.
“We have some of our members that support looking at it, there are others that are opposed, they have questions and thoughts,” Ehrecke said. “So this is going to need to evolve over the next year or two before any serious legislation or consideration would happen.”
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What: “Iowa Press” on gambling in Iowa
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on Iowa PBS; 8:30 a.m. Saturday on Iowa PBS World