oters in each of the counties - Lyon, Webster, Tama and Wapello - have approved ballot measures to authorize casino gambling.
Culver's support of the new licenses puts political heat on all five Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission members, who serve at the pleasure of the governor and can be replaced at any time. Former Governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, fired three members of the commission shortly after assuming office in 1999. Each was seen as unfriendly to Iowa's gambling industry.
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission is scheduled to make a decision about the licenses on May 13. Groups are scheduled to make initial presentations before the commission March 23 in Johnston. A public hearing is scheduled for May 4.
"It's important that Iowans know that I want to bring these jobs to Lyon, Webster, Wapello and Tama counties," Culver said at a news conference. "The economic impact of these jobs would be enormous, bringing in more than a quarter of a billion dollars in economic activity and far more in additional indirect spending."
All five members of the gaming commission said Thursday that they would take Culver's comments into consideration, but they would not say how they planned to vote on the four licenses. "We are just at the beginning of the process. I think it is premature to say how we might vote," said Commissioner Toni Urban of Des Moines.
Mitch Henry, a former problem gambler, expressed deep concern about Culver's support of the new licenses. Expanding gambling is not the right way to spark economic development, he said, noting that most casino jobs don't pay that well and the construction jobs they create are only temporary.
In addition, Iowans need to be concerned about social costs, such as increased bankruptcies, and "cannibalizing" other casinos via expansion, he said. "I believe Iowa has reached its market saturation," said Henry, of Des Moines. "There's only so much money that people will bet with, especially in these tough economic times."
Iowa has 17 state-regulated casinos, as well as two casinos operated by American Indian tribes. Four casino licenses were awarded by the commission while Vilsack was governor. The state had 19 casinos, including three tribal casinos, when he left office in January 2007.