Cedar Rapids casino

Iowa regulator to open application process for Linn County casino license

Renders for the Cedar Rapids casino project, submitted in 2017.
2022-03-04
United States
Reading time 2:38 min

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission on Thursday decided to launch its application process for a Linn County casino license. The push to build a casino was approved by voters in the county in a gaming referendum held last November and could potentially open the door to the development of a gambling venue in the state’s second-largest city.

A timeline for applications has not yet been announced, reports KCRG. The regulator has directed its staff to launch the process, with all commissioners who denied a Cedar Rapids license in 2017 and 2014 having cycled off the panel in the years since, meaning applications will be handled by a brand new state commission.

This time around, Cedar Rapids officials believe the development proposal has gained momentum as to become a reality, arguing it would help the state remain competitive as neighboring Nebraska has approved gaming at its six tracks. Economic studies show Nebraska's gambling expansion could cannibalize Iowa’s gaming industry.

However, the city must first make a solid case that their own proposed casino would not also eat into the revenue of other venues already operating in the state. This was one of the main reasons why a license was denied in prior attempts: commissioners believed the market, which includes nearby facilities in Waterloo and Riverside, is already full enough.

At a Thursday meeting announcing the process launch, commissioners didn’t comment on studies presented at a January meeting, reports The Gazette, and mostly emphasized they were starting the procedure pursuant to the referendum’s passage. The regulator’s next meeting will be on April 14, a time in which application details and a timeline could be unveiled.

The process launch has been described as an essential step by major stakeholders in the project. “We checked a big box today, and the next step is to get the timeline,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell said. Her excitement was echoed by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, potential Cedar Rapids casino operator.

While P2E officials have so far declined to comment on a proposed location for the casino, it is believed the now-demolished Cooper’s Mill on F Avenue NW is among the contenders, the cited news source reports. It would find the casino in proximity to downtown, which was among city leaders’ priorities.

P2E has recently made the news due to a deal, announced last month, which will see Kentucky Derby operator Churchill Downs acquiring most of its major assets, including the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel in Sioux City. However, its development rights in Cedar Rapids were not included in the transaction, presumably as the business prepares to campaign for the venue.

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment has moved quickly and, according to officials, plans are “90% done,” with more details to be unveiled this summer: the project is now set to be “significantly larger” than previous proposals, under a goal to be “the best casino” in Iowa. However, this isn’t welcomed news for other operators in the state.

Casinos in the Hawkeye State began organizing against a potential new competitor in January, launching a campaign against adding more gambling venues in the state. While a casino in Linn County could potentially increase revenue for the state, it would also substantially hurt nearby existing gaming facilities, opponents of the Cedar Rapids project argue.

In a written statement, Dan Kehl, CEO of Elite Casino Resorts, called earlier this year for support to Iowa’s gambling industry, which he claims needs to find protection from outside competition coming out of the state. But he also said the focus should be on strengthening current casinos to compete, instead of adding new venues to the market.

“It’s like deja vu all over again,” Kehl wrote in the statement. “The commission has studied this issue diligently. But the fact is, a Cedar Rapids casino comes primarily at the expense of Riverside, Waterloo and Meskwaki. We’ve invested heavily in our properties to make them attractive to our guests.”

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