DUBUQUE, Iowa — A state gaming commission on Thursday rejected proposals for a casino in Cedar Rapids, reflecting its long-held concerns that it would hurt profits at existing Iowa casinos.
The decision came during a meeting in Dubuque, where members discussed the merits of three proposals. Two of the proposals came from Cedar Rapids Development Group: a plan similar to one proposed and rejected in 2014 for a $196 million Cedar Crossing development on the west side of the Cedar River and a smaller, $106 million casino in downtown Cedar Rapids.
The third proposal from Wild Rose Entertainment would have built a smaller $42 million “boutique” casino downtown.
Commission Chairman Richard Arnold, of Russell, and member Delores Metz, of Algona, voted to allow a license, citing the positive economic affect it would have on Cedar Rapids — more than $100 million according to one proposal. A casino would send shows to the city’s underutilized events center and new patrons to downtown Cedar Rapids restaurants, Arnold said.
“These projects seem to be a perfect fit for downtown Cedar Rapids,” he said.
But others said the proposals did little to assuage the concerns they had in 2014, including figures that show casino gambling in the state has seen no growth in recent years.
Introducing a new casino would undercut existing ones that have invested millions to keep their faculties up-to-date and inviting to patrons, commission member Carl Heinrich said.
Member Kristine Kramer echoed that, saying a casino at Cedar Rapids would hurt the economies of outlying rural areas that already have them, such of Riverside, Tama and Waterloo.
She expressed sympathy for Cedar Rapids, the state’s second-largest city that is still recovering from the economic hit it took from devastating floods nearly 10 years ago.
“But you were the second-largest city when you turned gaming down, too,” Kramer said, referencing the city’s 2003 vote against allowing casino gambling.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett took issue with the remark, noting that the vote nearly 15 years ago came at a time when Iowa allowed only riverboat gambling.
“I thought that argument was out of line and out of context,” he said. “It would be akin to telling a school district that because voters once rejected a bond issue, they shouldn’t be allowed to approve one ever again.”
The downtown site that had been considered for a casino is privately owned and will likely be redeveloped for another use, Corbett said. Public land on the west side of town that the city has set aside for a proposed casino will now have to get another look, he said.
“Now we’ll have to decide whether to bank that property or put it up for redevelopment,” he said.
The authorization for a casino from the city’s 2013 referendum expires in 2020, Corbett said.