Staff Columnist

Iowa needs just a little more Vegas

A section of the Las Vegas Strip, also known as South Las Vegas Boulevard, on Aug. 12, 2018. The roughly 4-mile stretch of road and the area immediately surrounding it is home to more than 40 casinos, hundreds of retail shops, a wide variety of dining options and dozens of hotels and resorts. Each of these properties compete for market share by continually updating and providing innovative attractions and consumer perks. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
A section of the Las Vegas Strip, also known as South Las Vegas Boulevard, on Aug. 12, 2018. The roughly 4-mile stretch of road and the area immediately surrounding it is home to more than 40 casinos, hundreds of retail shops, a wide variety of dining options and dozens of hotels and resorts. Each of these properties compete for market share by continually updating and providing innovative attractions and consumer perks. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
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Election machine and social engineering vulnerabilities were at the top of my mind as we headed to DEFCON. Returning, however, my thoughts centered on the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, and the farce of cannibalism.

For those unaware, DEFCON claims to be the world’s largest hacking conference. It’s a title difficult to dispute, as thousands upon thousands of hardware, software and all types of techies romped throughout Las Vegas last week. I was there with my husband, a cyber security professional.

Attendees were invited to have their way with computers in a “Voting Machine Hacking Village,” examine the brains of a Dodge Challenger and show off their prowess in exposing the vulnerabilities of Fortune 500 companies.

Although we didn’t connect in Vegas, Linn County Auditor Joel Miller wrote a blog post with his thoughts on the voting machine demonstrations. More details on the vulnerabilities of those machines will be published by conference organizers in the coming weeks, but the big take-away is an 11-year-old boy was able to hack into voting machines, replicas of Florida systems, in less than 10 minutes and change the outcome of a mock election. Lesser access, such as viewing data, took a matter of seconds — by kids ranging in age from 8 to 16.

Nearly all aspects of the conference, including official badges, were games or puzzles to be pondered, explored and, hopefully, solved. I assume this was of special appeal to the bevy of Millennial males attending.

Even as I continue to digest information from these experiments — thanks to the section on social engineering I’ll never answer a phone survey again, and you shouldn’t either — DEFCON demonstrations weren’t on my mind as our return plane circled Cedar Rapids. My eyes roamed the top of The Gazette building, skimmed over Veterans’ Memorial and locked on the piece of land once intended for a casino.

I’m neither a fan or an opponent of casinos. Because I question peripheral and negative elements of the casino industry, I voted against placing one in Linn County. But I also shed no tears when a majority of voters decided differently.

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But if there was an Iowa lesson in Vegas — where you can stand in one casino and poke a slot machine in another — it is the “cannibalism” excuse by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission for not allowing a Linn County casino was absolute bunk. Proximity forces casinos to compete, which is great for consumers. It isn’t just the games or the odds, but the shows, atmosphere, room rates and other services.

Iowa crafted a system that benefits the lucky few; that provides no incentive for existing casinos to compete for market share or (in the spirit of DEFCON) to up their game.

The Hawkeye State can never be Sin City, not that we’d want to be. But we can learn from what works elsewhere.

Leaders must revisit community funding formulas tied to gambling to better distribute casinos’ sparse benefits. And, if the goal is more and better entertainment options, residents must demand an end to the regulatory protection scheme and let Iowa casinos learn to thrive on their own.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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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.

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