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Top stories of the 2010s: No casino for Cedar Rapids as regulators twice turn down gambling proposals

A decision on 'destination' ideas for land set aside for project could come in 2020

This rendering shows the $174 million Cedar Crossing planned for Cedar Rapids on the west bank of the Cedar River. The I
This rendering shows the $174 million Cedar Crossing planned for Cedar Rapids on the west bank of the Cedar River. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission twice turned down casino proposals for the city, despite overwhelming support for a casino from Linn County voters. (City of Cedar Rapids)
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The eve of a new decade presents a perfect time to reflect on the past 10 years, to look at the changes in our lives and in our state and nation. For Iowa, The Gazette chose 10 storylines of the decade that have changed or will change the state’s trajectory. This is one of those stories. See the full list and read them here.

Cedar Rapids twice rolled the dice, trying to get state approval for a casino in downtown Cedar Rapids.

The dice came up snake eyes both times.

Linn County citizens wanted a casino, with voters overwhelmingly supporting casino gaming in a 2013 referendum — 61 to 39 percent.

The casino promised to bring in millions for its host city and millions more to be donated to local nonprofits.

But in Iowa, the state Racing and Gaming Commission decides how many casinos can operate and where they can go. It already had said in 2010 it wasn’t going to approve any new gaming operations in the state for at least three years.

In 2014, a group of investors, led by Steve Gray and Drew Skogman, tried to gain approval for a $174 million Cedar Crossing Casino to be built on flood-cleared land just west of the Cedar River.

Then-Mayor Ron Corbett said the money the city would get from the casino was crucial in helping pay for flood protection.

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Gaming commissioners nonetheless rejected the proposal on a 4-1 vote, saying the plan would “cannibalize” established casinos, particularly the Riverside Casino & Resort south of Iowa City.

Developers went back in 2017, this time with three proposals — two from Cedar Crossing and one for a smaller “boutique” casino. But the result was the same, with commissioners voting 3-2 against the proposals, saying they believed the gaming market in Iowa was saturated.

“It’s just a big disappointment for our community,” Corbett said then. “A lot of money and a lot time was spent on the preparation of these applications only to have the same result.”

Though the city is not necessarily giving up on the idea of a casino for good, it is on the 8 acres of land being held for one near the river. It’s asking the public and developers for “destination” ideas for the land at First Avenue and First Street West. A decision could be forthcoming in 2020.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.