CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids City Council member Justin Shields said it’s time to talk again about bringing gambling to Cedar Rapids and Linn County and to prepare for a vote in November 2011.
Cedar Rapids and the rest of Linn County, Shields said Friday, are losing out on money that residents spend gambling elsewhere.
“More and more people in Cedar Rapids are waiting to line up for buses to go to Tama, Waterloo, Dubuque and Riverside, to go gamble,” he said.
Shields first broached the idea at this week’s City Council meeting, and council colleague Chuck Wieneke said that he, too, would be eager to discuss a gambling venue here that could contribute some proceeds to government and charities.
The City Council has talked at great length for a year or more about the need to diversify revenue, so it does not rely so heavily on property taxes. Shields and Wieneke said revenue from gambling is one way to do that.
The city, Shields said, has chronic budget and infrastructure problems that could use some help from gambling revenue.
He pointed to Dubuque, which in 2008 pulled in $15 million for city government from two gambling venues in the city, Dubuque officials said Friday.
Lu Barron, chairwoman of the Linn County Board of Supervisors, and Supervisor Brent Oleson agreed with Shields. Barron said now — two years before a Linn County referendum can be held — is the time for Linn County and Cedar Rapids to revisit the gambling issue.
Voters in Linn County voted down the casino idea in November 2003, 53 percent to 47 percent. The margin of defeat in Cedar Rapids was closer, 51 percent to 49 percent.
Barron said she opposed the measure in 2003 because the proposal would have given the operator too much money and the community and local government too little.
She said this time a gambling operation could be set up to steer more revenue to communities and less to the operators.
Iowa has 17 state-sanctioned gambling venues, not counting those operated by American Indians.
Wapello, Webster, Franklin, Tama and Lyon counties have passed a referendum and are positioned to apply for a state license if they meet a Nov. 9 deadline.
Jack Ketterer, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said the commission has “some reservations” about handing out too many additional licenses and does not want new gambling venues to damage the viability of those already in place.