Supporters, opponents react to new Cedar Rapids casino proposal - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Supporters, opponents react to new Cedar Rapids casino proposal

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CEDAR RAPIDS (KWWL) - Cedar Rapids is hoping it's hit the jackpot -- that people may be able to gamble in the city after all.

The mayor's got a new proposal: the state's first smoke-free casino.

"The industry has evolved, and we think we're at the next phase of the evolution of the industry and why we're going to be pushing for legislation next year," said Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett.

This comes nearly eight months after the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission said no to a Linn County gaming license -- saying studies show the casino would take too much money away from others nearby.

Now, the city is looking for lawmakers to approve the smoke-free license.

Investors say they still believe a casino would help Cedar Rapids in a lot of ways: the jobs, the money that would go back into the community. But opponents say a casino -- smoke-free or not -- would hurt the existing market.

"Hopefully, the structure of the casino would still work," said investor Drew Skogman. "We don't plan at this point to downsize or change the facility at all."

Corbett says, throughout the past several months, he's heard what others are saying.

There are already a lot of casinos in Iowa, which is why he's also recommending holding off on new licenses for the next ten years -- except for Cedar Rapids.

"The way our bill is drafted now, there will just be one more license granted in the state of Iowa," said Corbett. "That would be for the Cedar Rapids market."

Corbett is working with lawmakers on proposed legislation, which has five parts:


-A special license for Cedar Rapids to become the state's first smoke-free casino.
- Changing the formula for how casino revenues are divided, giving more to counties without casinos.
- A 10-year moratorium on new licenses.
- Eliminating the tax casinos pay for frequent players.
- Require casinos to re-invest the money saved from the frequent players taxes into nonprofits.

The bill still needs approval from the legislature.

Gov. Terry Branstad says he's open to gaming reform and the possibility of a smoke-free casino, but is reserving judgment on the proposal until he sees a final bill.

Those who have opposed a Cedar Rapids casino in the past -- namely, those with a stake in the current game -- are also against this idea.

“This proposal is not a reform package, it's a gaming expansion bill that circumvents a system that has worked well for decades," said Dan Kehl, CEO of Riverside Casino in a written statement. "The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission's good stewardship of gaming licenses in the state has resulted in a stable gaming industry. There is no need to circumvent the IRGC's authority and history of doing what's best for the state.”

Tim Hurley with the Black Hawk County Gaming Association said Corbett's is a unique approach, but he doesn't see it gaining traction in the legislature. 

Cedar Rapids casino supporters say they believe a smoke-free casino could be successful in Iowa, using Jumer's Casino and Hotel in Rock Island, Illinois, as an example. It's smoke-free on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, with smoking casinos across the river in Iowa.

However, analyst Chris Jones with the Union Gaming Group tells KWWL that a smoke-free casino in a smoking casino market "would not make sense." He believes that it would mean less of an impact to existing casinos.

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