Casino means money for county

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March 28, 2014 | 9:35 am

By Keith Rippy, Leah Rodenberg, Justin Shields, Linda Seger, and Brent Oleson

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We are the newly appointed members of the Linn County Gaming Association, If a gaming license is approved for Linn County, we will hold the casino’s operating license and will be responsible for the distribution of charitable funds from its allocated gaming tax profits.

In 2004, the Iowa Legislature ensured that a portion of gaming tax revenues would be directed back into communities to foster greater philanthropy.

Let us explain how this works and why passing a referendum in Linn County would mean a significant infusion of charitable dollars for local distribution.

The Linn County Gaming Association, or LCGA, was formed through discussions between the local casino investor group, Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, the Linn County Board of Supervisors and the Cedar Rapids City Council. Its first board of directors was carefully chosen to represent several different community areas of business, non-profit, neighborhood and government.

If a casino license is eventually granted, the Linn County Gaming Association has already formed an operating agreement with Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC to run and manage the casino operations for 10 years, with significant extension options. The main responsibility for the LCGA’s existence after setting up the license arrangement is to ensure the proper distribution of the gaming tax revenues allotted for charitable distribution.

The Legislature set up provisions to ensure that casinos give back to their communities. The Legislature also made it possible for the 85 counties without casinos to have an opportunity to share in the gaming tax revenues, at a lesser percentage, of course, but not without impact. Linn County, being one of those 85 non-gaming counties, receives a small portion of this distribution by the casinos. Since 2005, our county’s yearly distribution averaged $140,000.

Much data collection has been completed to assess the economic impact of a casino built in the second largest county, currently underserved by this industry. The numbers are telling and significant. We project our county would receive a minimum annual infusion of $2.4 million up to $4 million that would be available for non-profits and communities throughout the county.

However, there are several steps that have to be completed. First, the petition drive to get the casino issue before voters must produce slightly less than 12,000 signatures. After the petitions are certified and a date for the casino referendum is set by the county supervisors, the voters will decide on the presence of a casino in our county. If the referendum passes, the license application goes to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

Currently, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation does a terrific job managing and distributing those current non-casino county gaming tax revenues. We would not take over this responsibility until a casino license was granted to our county.

The LCGA board has established its four priority areas of focus for application and distribution processes that we would design, based on best practices in other communities in our state. The focus areas:

1. Education

2. Human and social needs

3. Arts and culture

4. Community development, beautification and recreation

We hope to be able to provide charitable and community enhancements worthy of our fine county, examples of which are seen in many locales in the state with casinos. They include new emergency services buildings, the expansion of existing human service programs, new recreational and cultural opportunities, even contributions toward flood recovery.

We will look to best practices in other communities to ensure that our gaming revenues would make a major impact by strengthening organizations and communities throughout Linn County.

l Submitted by the Linn County Gaming Association’s initial board members: Keith Rippy, executive director of the Area Ambulance Service; Leah Rodenberg, who works in corporate philanthropy; City Council member Justin Shields; Linda Seger, neighborhood activist; Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson. Rippy is the board president. Comments: mrogers@AdTrack.com   

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