Cedar Rapids leaders are making another last-chance grab for a casino, still convinced as our community was in the 1990s that all development dreams can come true if only they had a casino.
Linn County leaders stayed on the sidelines as the Quad-City leaders initiated Iowa’s riverboat gambling innovation in the early 1990s. Linn County voters rejected gambling in 2003, when other Iowa communities worked hard to win voter support.
Finally, in 2013, Cedar Rapids leaders managed to get the referendum question past voters. But the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission wisely said no to a Cedar Rapids plan that could only succeed by drawing customers from existing casinos in Waterloo, Riverside and the Quad-Cities.
Now Cedar Rapids is trying an end-run around the commission with a plan too absurd to merit legislative consideration.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett seeks a special bill with three phony, vote-getting ploys:
1. The plan would grant Cedar Rapids a license for the state’s first smoke-free casino. The smoke-free gimmick is a face slap to every Iowa restaurant, tavern, office and shop owner who already dutifully complied with the legislature’s smoking ban. Legislators should ban smoking in every casino, not regard no-smoking as some kind of special distinction for one.
2. The Cedar Rapids plan would rewrite state law to share more casino revenue with counties that never sought or got a casino. Every county had its chance. Scott, Clinton, Blackhawk and all of those other Iowa gaming counties worked hard to earn widespread voter support a decade or more before Cedar Rapids.
3. The plan would set a 10-year legislative moratorium on new licenses after Cedar Rapids gets one. This provision acknowledges Cedar Rapids leaders are aware of Iowa’s gaming glut, but simply do not care.
Iowa lawmakers certainly should lead a statewide discussion to address the drastically changing course of Iowa gaming. But they should ignore this end-run to squeeze one more casino into Iowa. Smoking bans and new revenue schemes do not change the fundamental fact that Iowa’s gaming commission and two independent studies concluded the Iowa gaming market is full.