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Casinos predict gloom if Cedar Rapids gets license | Local News

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Casinos predict gloom if Cedar Rapids gets license | Local News

CEDAR RAPIDS — Casino operators and their supporters lined up to oppose a bid for granting a Cedar Rapids gaming license during a public hearing Tuesday before state gambling regulators, much like they did in 2014 when a similar effort was rejected.

Dan Kehl, chief executive of Elite Casino Resorts, which operates Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, Rhythm City Casino in Davenport and Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort in Larchwood, spoke of “drastic” staffing cuts in Riverside if another license were granted, and noted market conditions are as dreary as they were three years ago.

“Nothing has changed in this market, and we urge you not to grant Cedar Rapids a license,” he told the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

Representatives from casinos in Tama, Waterloo and the Quad Cities also spoke against a license, saying the market is saturated, the gaming crowd is shrinking and there’s no reason to destabilize existing casinos.

The commission traveled to Cedar Rapids visit the sites of the three casino proposals, followed by an afternoon public hearing. The commission plans to make a decision in November.

A $40 million to $55 million “boutique” Wild Rose Cedar Rapids on First Avenue S.E. proposed by Wild Rose Entertainment and led by Gary Kirke.

A $105 million to $118 million Cedar Crossing Central in a skydeck tied to the DoubleTree Hotel and U.S. Cellular Center, proposed by Brent Stevens of Peninsula Pacific and Steve Gray of the Cedar Rapids Development Group.

A $165 million to $187 million Cedar Crossing on the River on First Street S.W., nearly identical to the project rejected by a 4-1 gaming commission vote in 2014 based largely on projections it would cannibalize other casinos. It also is proposed by Peninsula Pacific and Cedar Rapids Development.

Jonathan Swain, who is involved in the two Cedar Crossing proposals, urged commissioners not to base their decision solely on the effects on other casinos. He touted Cedar Crossing Central’s plans to double the number of concerts at the U.S. Cellular Center, up to 90 or 100 a year.

The gaming industry in Iowa is flat, he said, and urged a different way of thinking. A new investment coupled with complementary entertainment is the only thing that will grow the industry, he said.

“This is an opportunity for growth in the state,” Swain said.

Dan Long, a pastor with Jesus is the Way Church in Cedar Rapids, was among a handful of local residents opposed to any casino. He displayed a sign at the hearing urging repentance.

“It’s a sin,” he said. “Every preacher in town ought to be out here today.”

But most local people who spoke favored a casino, and among those supporters most favored the Cedar Crossing group.

“It’s sour grapes being against a small casino here,” said Melanie Primasing, owner of Simply Divine Candy, who spoke in favor of Cedar Crossing Central. “There’s enough for everyone.”

Tami Culver, an investor in Cedar Crossing, said people in Cedar Rapids don’t participate in gambling on a regular basis because surrounding casinos are too far away. She cast doubt on whether those casinos would lose patrons.

“There’s no reason why people in the second largest city should have to drive an hour away for entertainment,” she said.

Gaming Commissioner Jeff Lamberti said site visits are an important part of the decision-making process.

“When we see a flat industry, it makes our jobs harder,” he said. “We don’t want to see it stagnate.”

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