By The Gazette Editorial Board
Boon or boondoggle? An investor group last week announced a proposal to build a casino in Cedar Rapids. It quickly drew formal support from the City Council. Knowledgeable, successful local businessmen have researched and put together the conceptual plan.
Still, its fate rests in the people of Linn County. Where it should be.
Some see the proposed $80-plus million gambling facility as a potential major new attraction for the area, one which will provide jobs and boost Cedar Rapids’ economy and regional destination profile.
Others worry about the possible negative impact a casino could have on crime rates and for people who are vulnerable to gambling addiction. They argue that casino jobs don’t pay enough.
Critics’ concerns and the casino backers’ plans should be scrutinized and weighed by Linn County residents. Because under Iowa law, if enough residents sign a petition for a referendum, county voters will decide next year whether to approve gambling. Then it’s up to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to grant a state license, which would be held by a local non-profit group, already designated and named Linn County Gaming Association Inc.
Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, led by local businessman Steve Gray, is leading the charge to build a casino that could open as early as 2016.
Gray and his investors, most of whom hail from Cedar Rapids, envision a destination casino that would add 360 long-term jobs and an additional 130 short-term construction jobs. They figure the facility would generate more than $200 million in tax revenue and required charitable contributions in the first 10 years, alone. Plus, the investors, argue, it will make Cedar Rapids “a lot more fun.”
They say they were heartened by recent survey results that show sufficient support in the city to make the project feasible.
If a referendum is held next year, it will be a decade after county voters narrowly defeated a previous gambling proposal. State law has changed since then, which allows Gray’s group to be more creative about the location and design of its project. Investors envision a 110,000 to 120,000-square-foot facility with meeting rooms, restaurants, entertainment venues and other amenities beyond gaming. Their research indicates at least a quarter of those who visit casinos like the one they’re proposing aren’t into gambling.
It’s great to see a local group exploring a major new investment in this city and county — one that’s not asking for a government subsidy. First, though, this group must convince enough residents to sign a petition and give this project a chance to advance. So far, we think the proposal warrants an opportunity for county voters to consider.
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