A survey of Davenport residents that was done this month and paid for by a group of area business leaders showed 92 percent of the population in favor of putting the city’s proposed purchase of the Rhythm City Casino to a vote.
But how that referendum would turn out is uncertain, according to the survey, with respondents roughly split down the middle on that question.
An alderman interviewed late Saturday said a referendum is not likely to happen.
The survey, performed by Personal Marketing Research of Davenport, shows there is still much confusion among the city’s residents on the issue.
Trish Duffy, the president of Personal Marketing Research, said 403 people were surveyed and that there is a 3.9 percent margin of error in the results. The study was broken down by ZIP Code, renter or property owner, and age.
“It’s really split,” she said. “There isn’t an overwhelming majority one way or the other. And 14 percent just don’t know.”
Many respondents, she said, told those taking the survey that they need more information.
Residents in the certain ZIP Codes such as 52801 and 52803 are in favor of the casino deal, as are most renters, she said.
“There is a core group that doesn’t want any gambling,” she said. “The rest of the negatives think the city should not be involved in the casino business.”
One of the business owners who helped pay for the survey is Mike Duffy, who is the president of Per Mar Security, with headquarters in Davenport, and who is Trish Duffy’s brother.
“There are about six or seven of us that together pay about $1 million a year in property taxes who paid for the survey,” he said. “We felt we had a dog in the fight.”
Duffy said he and those who paid for the survey are opposed to the city owning or operating a casino.
“That has more to do with our belief in capitalism and the free enterprise system,” he added.
Duffy said he is concerned that the city is getting into a business where it does not belong and is putting the taxpayers’ money at risk.
An example of that, he said, is Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa, which opened in 1989 as a horse racing track, he said.
The Polk County facility “was a $40 million fiasco from day one,” he said. “It was only saved after the state legislature allowed them to have the horse track with the casino.”
In his mind, Duffy said, there is too much risk versus too little reward for the taxpayers of Davenport.
“I don’t think there is a reward,” he said. “If it is such a good deal, leave it to private enterprise.”
Don Decker, the treasurer of the Riverboat Development Authority, the nonprofit agency that holds the gambling license for the Rhythm City and a commercial property owner in Davenport, said he does not support Davenport owning or operating a casino at all and is concerned about how fast the purchase effort is advancing.
“I don’t think the city knows what it’s doing with this thing,” he said, adding, “The Rhythm City is in horrible shape.”
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Davenport Alderman Bill Boom, 3rd Ward, said the city could take the issue to a referendum, but that is not probable.
The aldermen were elected to make decisions for their constituents, he pointed out.
“We made the decision to build the Westside Diversion Tunnel and nobody fussed about that,” he said.
Under the agreement plan, Boom said the city would not own the casino. The RDA would continue to own the gambling license according to the state code.
“What the city is doing is buying the business,” he said. “We’re not going to be running the casino. There will be a professional staff run by the DCIC, the Davenport Community Improvement Corporation.
“In my estimation, we should not be focusing on if the city should own a casino but on the issue that the city will be retaining $10 million a year (in casino revenue) that was going to go out of the city that we can use to assist us in doing infrastructure projects,” Boom said. “That’s the discussion we should be having.”
There is also the potential for lowering taxes and fees while at the same time providing improved services, he said.
“That’s the goal of many of us. We’re working on the city of the future.”
Last week, a casino consultant working for the city said that financial projections data used by Decker and another vocal opponent of the casino acquisition were miscalculated when they showed a deficit for the casino after three years.
The city intends to have the purchase on the March 7 meeting agenda of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, but the deadline to add such an item is Feb. 21. And there is a Jan. 25 deadline for talks between the RDA and the city on an operating agreement. An extension until March 1 is being sought from the Isle of Capri, which owns the Rhythm City.