Mayor Ron Corbett and Brent Oleson, chairman of the Linn County Board of Supervisors, on Wednesday said both the Cedar Rapids City Council and the supervisors will agree next week to sign memorandums of understanding in support of a proposal by local investors to build a casino in the Cedar Rapids metro area.
Corbett and Oleson said the memorandums are designed to help make sure that a local investment group led by Steve Gray isn’t outmaneuvered by a non-local entity in securing a state gaming license for Linn County should such a license become available and a casino is built in the Cedar Rapids area.
“Their request isn’t unreasonable,” Corbett said. “They’re putting up all the money to get a voter referendum passed, they’re taking all the risk. There is zero risk to taxpayers.”
Oleson agreed, saying the Steve Gray-led group is one of local investors and members of the local community.
“We want to make sure and they want to make sure that if we obtain a gaming license, that somebody from out of state or someone who is not part of our community doesn’t swoop in and retain the license after they (Gray and his group) have risked their capital and did all the hard work,” said Oleson.
Corbett said the casino project is a private-sector venture, not a City Hall one. At the same time, though, he said he sees it as a giant economic development project, one that will result in up to a $100 million investment that will mean jobs, tax revenue and economic activity for the community.
Oleson and Cedar Rapids council member Justin Shields would be two members of the non-profit board that would be the holder of any Linn County gaming license as required by state law, if a casino is approved here.
Both Oleson and Shields said the casino would remedy what they see as a problem — a flock of Linn County residents who leave Cedar Rapids to gamble elsewhere in Iowa.
“This is a huge chance of doing things for this area that are just lost because we are exporting our money to all these other cities,” Shields said.
Shields, a local labor leader, said he has been working in the last couple of years to try to attract people to build a casino in Cedar Rapids, and he said the Steve Gray-led proposal looks like a good one.
“I have every confidence in the world with the group that we’re working with now and I think it’s going to be a great, great thing for Cedar Rapids and Linn County,” Shields said.
Linn County voters voted down a casino proposal in November 2003 that would have put a riverboat casino on the Cedar River at the site of the former Sinclair meatpacking plant. The vote was 53 percent to 47 percent against the measure. A simple majority is needed for passage.
Back then, an anti-casino organization, which called itself No Dice, actively participated in the community debate on the casino issue. The group included Leonard Hadley, a former chairman and CEO of the Maytag Corp., David Osterberg, associate professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa and founder and executive director of The Iowa Policy Project, and Cedar Rapids businesswoman Renee Otto.
Osterberg on Wednesday said he was at the ready for another casino fight.
“I believe such establishments exploit the poor,” Osterberg said, adding that there are citizens more conservative than him who oppose casinos for that reason and others. “I love working on issues when I have a bipartisan group on my side,” he said.
Otto on Wednesday said a casino in a community is nothing but a “regressive tax,” and she said “people who can least afford it end up paying it.”
“People who spend their money at a casino don’t go to McGrath’s to buy a car, don’t buy a refrigerator at Smulekoff’s, don’t buy coats for their children,” Otto said.