hey point to a potential for creating about 1,500 casino jobs and more than us$ 250 million in total capital investment. In opposition are community leaders from Osceola, Emmetsburg and Sioux City. They warn state regulators that Iowa's gambling market, which generates about us$ 1.4 billion annually in revenue from 17 state-regulated casinos, is already saturated. They say rolling the dice to allow more casinos would be a losing bet.
Greg Seyfer of Cedar Rapids, chairman of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said Friday that he's keeping an open mind toward all four license requests. He also said he's aware of worries about cannibalizing the state's existing casino markets. "We're just starting the process; now we just need to hear everybody's presentations," Seyfer said.
Each of the four communities and businesses seeking casino licenses will make formal pitches this week at a commission meeting in Johnston. Lyon County opponent: Sioux City
The us$ 120 million Lyon County casino is considered the odds-on favorite among the four applicants to win approval because state consultants believe it would draw large numbers of out-of-state gamblers who wouldn't otherwise spend money in Iowa. The facility, near Larchwood, would be built 8 miles southeast of Sioux Falls, S.D., which has a metro population of 218,000.
Jeff Gallagher, president of a nonprofit Lyon County group sponsoring the casino project in a partnership with Kehl Management, said last week that people in his community are excited. They approach him every day at his Larchwood lumber company to ask about the status of the casino license application. "Anytime you can bring 700 jobs into your community, and your community only has 875 people to start with, it's an amazing thing," Gallagher said. "And if they can bring 1.5 million to 2 million people into this area every year, that's something we can't even fathom yet."
But Sioux City Mayor Mike Hobart, whose community hosts the Argosy riverboat casino on the Missouri River, contends northwest Iowa already has enough gambling. "It is united in this area that we are against any expansion of gaming in Lyon County. I would hate to see the state trying to balance its budget on the backs of gamblers," Hobart said.
Ottumwa opponent: Osceola. Ottumwa casino backers say they will heavily market their proposed casino to attract Missouri gamblers.
Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel is chairman of a nonprofit group supporting a proposed us$ 50 million gambling complex in Ottumwa in a partnership with Minnesota-based Ingenus Management and Consulting. He said a casino is needed to bail out the city's $21 million Bridge View events center, a Vision Iowa project that is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually because of lack of business.
A casino would also provide about 360 jobs in a county with a 9.6 % unemployment rate. "We are looking at the casino being an economic engine for us that is going to bring people into downtown Ottumwa," Siegel said.
Bill Trickey, executive director of Clarke County Development Corp., a nonprofit sponsor of Terrible's Casino in Osceola, said an Ottumwa casino would be bad news for his town. He points to a state consultant's study showing Osceola's casino would lose up to $7.8 million annually, or 14 percent of its gambling revenue, if a casino license is granted in Ottumwa. Jobs would be lost in Osceola, along with local tax revenue, he said.
"It would be a big hit for us. You could get to the place where you threaten the economic viability of the operation altogether. Can it stay open? That is our concern," Trickey said. He has asked Osceola residents to write to state regulators and urge them to reject an Ottumwa casino.
Fort Dodge opponent: Emmetsburg
Governor Chet Culver's decision to publicly side with the communities seeking casino licenses has added fuel to the debate. The governor, in an unprecedented move, has urged regulators to approve all four licenses.
Culver's decision stunned Emmetsburg community leaders, who had worked for years to land the us$ 35 million Wild Rose Casino, which opened in May 2006. The Wild Rose Emmetsburg casino could lose as much as one quarter of its business to new competitors, particularly a Fort Dodge casino, said Emmetsburg Mayor John Schad.
Schad has written to Culver, asking him to reconsider. He views Culver's move as politicizing a process that is supposed to be conducted independently. "Emmetsburg citizens will respect a proper decision by racing and gaming," Schad wrote Culver. "They cannot, however, condone a tainted decision that smacks of political cronyism and back-room deals."
Culver aide Erin Seidler said the issue is about fairness and economic development. Voters in the four counties supported by the governor have all approved the legalization of casino gambling, and the projects would help create jobs, she said. "The bottom line is: The governor believes this is an issue of local control," Seidler said. "If communities vote in favor of gaming, then they should be given the opportunity to build one."
Steve Daniel, head of Webster County Gaming, which has partnered with Dubuque's Peninsula Gaming LLC to seek a Fort Dodge casino, contends there is room for casinos in both Fort Dodge and Emmetsburg. "We are a community that is just getting going and getting back up, and we believe this will make a huge difference for us," Daniel said. "We have no desire to damage Emmetsburg in any way."
The proposed Tama County casino, which would be located along a new U.S. Highway 30 near Tama-Toledo, would be a competitor of the Meskwaki tribal casino near Tama. Tama Mayor Chris Bearden said last week he has met with tribal members, and he hopes a newly licensed casino can work with the tribe to draw more gamblers to the area.
John Pavone, president of Signature Management, which is seeking the Tama County casino license, said Tama is in the middle of the "largest underserved market in the state of Iowa," with 1.5 million people within a 90-minute drive.