Voters will decide Linn County casino's fate Tuesday [The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa]
(Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 04--CEDAR RAPIDS -- Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Tuesday in all Linn County precinct polling places so voters can answer one question:
"Shall the following Public Measure be adopted Gambling games at a casino to be developed in Linn County are approved." Vote yes or no.
As of the end of the day Friday, 16,766 countywide voters already had cast absentee ballots, which compares to 3,371 absentee ballots cast in the May 2011 vote to extend the local-option sales tax in most of Linn County.
If the casino measure passes on Tuesday, the local casino investor group -- led by Cedar Rapids businessmen Steve Gray and Drew Skogman and doing business as Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC -- will begin an effort to convince the five-member Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission that a Cedar Rapids casino will raise additional casino revenue for the state while not significantly harming existing casinos.
Commission members have said that the commission likely will embark on new studies of the state's gaming industry before it decides if a Cedar Rapids casino makes sense and deserves a state gaming license.
If the Linn County measure fails on Tuesday, Iowa's gaming law requires the county to wait eight years before it can vote again on the casino issue.
The Tuesday vote is as hard not to know about as last year's Obama-Romney battle for the presidency.
Ads for the pro-casino and anti-casino campaigns have filled local television broadcasts and mailboxes at a cost of $2.2 million to date, the amount that the campaigns reported in documents filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board late last week.
Vote Yes Linn County has reported spending $1.48 million on the campaign, with another $120,200 in bills yet to pay, while Just Say No Casino has reported spending $727,977.
The Vote Yes contributions have come from the 60-plus investors who want to build a Cedar Rapids casino. And on the other side, the Just Say No effort is being funded by existing casinos in Riverside, which has contributed $600,000, and in Waterloo, which has contributed $150,000, in an attempt to block a Cedar Rapids casino and prevent it from stealing some of their customers.
Gray and Skogman said last week that the Cedar Rapids casino investors spent more than initially intended after the Riverside casino alerted the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission that it might spend up to $1.5 million to defeat the Cedar Rapids casino proposal.
Issues aside, the campaign ad war has worked to personalize the campaign as a duel between two big shots -- Cedar Rapids casino investor Steve Gray and Dan Kehl, the CEO of the Riverside casino south of Iowa City. With the attacks on Gray have come off-handed references to his time as an executive at the former McLeodUSA telecommunications firm in its up-and-down ride about a decade ago when shareholders lost millions of dollars. On the other side, Kehl has been portrayed as an out-of-town interloper and hypocrite who has funded a casino-is-bad campaign in Linn County with his Riverside casino millions.
Gray announced last week that the Cedar Rapids investors want to build their casino between First and Second avenues SW and First and Third streets SW, where much of the land has been obtained by the city through the federally funded, flood-recovery buyout program. The casino investors also want to purchase the vacant land across First Avenue West to use as green space and for possible expansion.
Just Friday, Kehl came to Cedar Rapids and held a news conference on a piece of the land that the Gray-led group wants to buy, saying he would build a $30 million water park and bowling and event center there if Linn County voters turn down a casino.
Gray has characterized Kehl's move an "ultimatum" to voters and a last-minute "Hail Mary."
Casino owner Kehl and a few Cedar Rapidians in the Just Say No Casino camp talked on Friday about the water park being "family-friendly" and the Cedar Rapids casino being "family-unfriendly."
Casino closing arguments:
The pro-casino campaign argues that a Cedar Rapids casino will:
--Create more than 600 jobs, a number than includes jobs to build and operate it, and jobs that will spring up because of the casino.
--Pay local property taxes and state taxes and will contribute money to local charities.
--Keep gambling dollars spent by Linn County residents in Linn County and attract dollars from outside the county.
--Give a boost to Cedar Rapids' riverfront across from downtown, where the casino will be built, while including a piece of flood protection.
--Provide business for the city-owned hotel and convention complex, which opens in June.
On the other side, the anti-casino campaign has said that the Cedar Rapids casino plan:
--Has been rushed at voters with too little public debate.
--Is not real economic development and comes with more costs in crime and social problems than benefits.
--Will not deliver all the jobs promised and will hurt existing restaurants and bars.
--Provides only the state-required minimum, 3 percent of adjusted gross receipts, for local charities when other casinos pay their community charities a larger percentage.
--Will attract mostly local residents, and so casino losers will be Linn County residents.
-- Weather concerns cause long lines to cast early casino vote
-- Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance backs local casino proposal
-- 51 percent backing casino
-- Riverside casino CEO will build water park in Cedar Rapids if you vote 'No' on Linn casino
(c)2013 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
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