Iowa casino license moratorium causes tension, Cedar Rapids mayor calls for veto
June 4, 2022
Cedar Rapids is currently embroiled in a casino battle between local casino investors and Iowa lawmakers. The sudden two-year moratorium on new casino licenses surprised local casino investors and supporters.
The last-minute moratorium immediately raised concerns, mainly from the state gaming regulators. Some also think that the moratorium might be the beginning of political involvement in the state’s gaming operations.
Regarding this situation, Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission members decided to wait for Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ decision to sign the bill.
$250 million casino project
The casino's investors and supporters proposed a $250 million project for the casino, which was planned to be located at the former site of the Cooper’s Mill Hotel. The casino will be 160,000 square feet with many entertainment and attractions.
There will be up to 1,100 gambling machines with 40–60 table games. The Clubhouse by Zach Johnson will also be featured in this casino and offer a sportsbook, taproom, and restaurant. Not only was it designed for gamblers, but the facility will also include restaurants, bars, and a 1,500-seat entertainment venue too.
Located on the west side of the river downtown, the project will also provide flood protection across its expanse. Apart from that, the casino is predicted to donate up to $7 million to the local nonprofits.
Concern about political involvement
According to Commissioner Lance Horbach, the point of having an independent commission is to separate politics, money, and other influences from Iowa casino regulation. However, with the current situation, Horbach said that the state’s politics started to make its way to Iowa's gaming industry.
"I do have some concern about the impact on the commission process in the state of Iowa," Horbach said.
The state’s legislative decision also surprised other commissioners, such as Commissioner Mark Campbell and Commissioner Daryl Olsen.
"We value the integrity of the process, and I think this commission values that and is going to work extremely hard to maintain that in the process of licensing and regulating and how we move forward," Campbell said.
Olsen said that the decisions should just stay at the level of the commission. The commission itself has engaged in a long process of awarding a gaming license from the start and put forth the effort to understand every gaming topic.
Even though Olsen was disappointed with the moratorium, he said that the commission would continue to regulate as it was their job to do it and not to legislate.
The casino fight was now up to Reynolds. The Governor said that she has 30 days to review the bills and make a decision.
The casino battle is now in the hands of the Governor, who has only 30 days to review the bills and make a decision.
Letter from Cedar Rapids mayor
Tiffany O'Donnell, the mayor of Cedar Rapids, was also concerned about the moratorium. She wrote a letter to Reynolds on Thursday, requesting that the bill be vetoed.
She claimed in her letter that the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission is best suited to determine the best path for the state's gaming industry.
"Given that the amended bill was filed and passed both chambers in a matter of hours, the city and (the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission) were unable to share this critically important information with the legislature," O’Donnell wrote.