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Iowa: Linn County voters approve casino referendum, Cedar Rapids project alive

Renders for Cedar Rapids casino project, submitted in 2017.
Reading time 2:20 min
The possibility comes after 55% of voters on Tuesday allowed excursion gambling boats or gambling structure activities to continue. Even though the vote does not approve a specific casino plan, Cedar Rapids Development Group will now begin the process of applying for a gaming license with the state commission which, in case of being approved, will lead to the development of a casino.

After voters decided to extend its approval on Tuesday, now that the referendum that allows gaming was passed, legalized casino gambling could still come to Linn County. While the area does not have casinos, roughly 55% of voters favored a referendum that allowed excursion gambling boats or gambling structure activities to continue, while 45% voted against.

The vote does not approve a specific casino plan, but it would allow the Cedar Rapids Development Group and other organizers to put together another plan to submit to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission sometime in the future. 

The CRDG and its nonprofit partner, the Linn County Gaming Association, will now begin the process of applying for a gaming license with the state commission. If a license is granted, formal steps will be taken to develop a casino. 

In an official press release, Jonathan Swain, president of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the parent company of CRDG, said: “The voters have shown they are ready to unlock Linn County’s potential. Passing this referendum was the first step in our path to building a local casino”. 

“A local casino will help our communities become a more vibrant place to live. A casino will bring millions of much-needed dollars in additional support to local nonprofits. We believe we can do more and be more”, LCGA president Anne Parmley said in a statement. 

The state commission rejected proposals for a casino in Linn County in 2014 and 2017. Supporters of a local casino have said that expanded gambling in the state and a new commission membership means that the same thing may not occur with a future proposal. 

No specific casino development proposals have been brought forward until now. The location has not been officially announced either. 

However, Swain said that “we’ve always expressed a preference for (downtown) Cedar Rapids. We’ve evaluated half a dozen sites, and we still are focused on something that can help re-energize downtown Cedar Rapids”. 

There are currently 19 licensed casinos in the state, with the closest to Linn County located in Riverside, Waterloo and Dubuque. But even though plans fell through on the last two occasions, Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E), set to become the operator of the casino, believes that now, with a new set of members at the commission, things might finally go their way.

Several factors have changed since the last proposal was rejected, which should improve the chances of receiving a casino license if the county referendum is approved.

 Last month, the (CRDG) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building and Construction Trades Council outlining the intention to enter a project labor agreement once plans are developed for a local casino.

In addition, at an August presentation, P2E financial officer Natalie Schramm announced an agreement with the Linn County Gaming Association, the group would hold the license for any gaming venture. Under that agreement, Linn County nonprofit agencies would receive 8% of net revenue from a local casino – more than double the 3% allocation required by state law.

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