License bid would be delayed to June 2024

Iowa Gov. pushed not to sign casino moratorium bill as P2E's Cedar Rapids project developers unveil $250M plans

Rendering of P2E's Cedar Crossing casino project in Linn County, Iowa.
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Despite Iowa lawmakers passing last week a two-year moratorium on new casino licenses, developers and backers of a $250 million casino proposal in Cedar Rapids, Linn County, have unveiled details and plans for their project, called "Cedar Crossing." 

The Linn County Gaming Association (LCGA), Cedar Rapids Development Group, and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) released the project details for Cedar Crossing over the weekend. The facility would occupy the old Cooper's Mill site along the Cedar River in the northwest quadrant of downtown, where the hotel was demolished several years ago. The proposal replaces the previous site at 1st Ave and 1st Street NW, which will not feature a large entertainment complex anchored by Backpocket Brewery, as reported by CBS Iowa.

The plan is backed by Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell, and calls for a facility with bars, restaurants, a “foodertainment” venue with local PGA golfer Zach Johnson’s name attached to it, and a 1,500-seat event center. The casino project includes between 800 and 1,100 gaming machines and 40 to 60 table games. But P2E President Jonathan Swain said the key difference with this sales pitch is the level of investment in the nongaming components. “That’s really what’s going to draw young audiences to the future casinos,” Swain said. “As we look forward in the next 10 years, we think this is a critical differentiator for what we’re doing with this project versus everything else that’s in the state.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The proposed state moratorium would take effect June 1, pending a signature from Gov. Kim Reynolds, who said Friday she was reviewing recently passed legislation with her staff, according to The Gazette. The developers would jointly apply for a gaming license with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission after the moratorium on new licenses ends in June 2024. O’Donnell has asked Gov. Reynolds not to sign the bill, and indicated some hope that the release of the site plans could sway the state in Cedar Rapids’ favor.

In addition to Mayor O’Donnell, Linn County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ben Rogers supports Cedar Crossing and its developers. “For the last 10 years, we have backed this team and its commitment to bring this facility to Linn County. We will maintain our commitment to supporting them in the future,” Rogers said.

City leaders say any new casino would be constructed into current plans for flood protection in northwest Cedar Rapids. “Cedar Crossing is going to be a cornerstone of revitalization efforts in Cedar Rapids,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “This team has set the vision and has been leading the charge longer than anyone else – they live here and know our community, and they have been thoughtful in their approach to build the partnerships they need to build a world-class gaming and entertainment destination. Cedar Rapidians deserve that.”

Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell

Furthermore, supporters pledged to commit 8% of net gaming revenue in funding toward local nonprofits, which they said would contribute an estimated $5 to $7 million per year.

“From the beginning, we’ve said a Linn County casino will help our communities be more vibrant places to live,” Anne Parmley, LCGA president, said in a statement. “We believe we can do more and be more – and the $5 to $7 million dollars in annual net gaming revenue that we can commit to funding local nonprofits is our way to show our commitment to lifting Linn County as a better place to live, work and visit.”

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment previously developed the Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque, Diamond Jo Casino in Worth County, and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Sioux City.

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 new commission membership means that the same thing may not occur with a future proposal. Voters in Linn County kept hopes for a casino alive in a referendum vote in November 2021, which passed with 55% approval. The vote did not approve a specific casino plan.  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.

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment struck a $2.5 billion deal in March to sell most of its remaining assets to Churchill Downs Inc. Swain has said the Linn County casino would be its “cornerstone” gaming property. That transaction did not include the Cedar Rapids Development Group.

A Linn County casino discussion is on the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s June 2 meeting agenda. The panel shared in March it would take applications for a Linn County gambling facility. Now the state moratorium may be a roadblock, but Swain said the development team already has been crafting a casino vision for the better part of a decade, so two years in the scheme of the process isn’t far away.

“For what we are going to be doing and planning and design and development of the project, the timing may fall perfectly into what we would like to see happen, which is construction of a project in 2024,” Swain said. “Our obligation is to keep the momentum alive.”




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