Organized opposition forms to Cedar Rapids casino proposal

Opponents wonder why city council, supervisors support plan despite lack of details

March 28, 2014 | 9:44 am

Casino backers and their Vote Yes Linn County campaign now have organized opposition ó a group called Just Say No Casino.

The Just Say No Casino effort is chaired by Frank King, a City Hall critic and flood victim who was a vocal opponent in 2012 of the proposal to extend the local-option sales tax for flood protection. King also has been critical of several City Hall building projects, including the new library, convention center and amphitheater and the renovation of the downtown hotel.

The city doesnít need a casino, King said on Monday, especially one that he said voters have been told so little about.

"We donít know who is investing in this proposed casino, where they want to locate it or who they would bring in to operate it," he said.

He doesnít understand, he added, why the Cedar Rapids City Council and Linn County Board of Supervisors have come out in support of the casino proposal without knowing the projectís details.

The Just Say No Casino group lists 15 people who are a part of their coalition, a coalition that doubts that a casino will help to bring long-term economic development to the area.

One of the 15 is Clifford Koop, an 86-year-old Cedar Rapids resident who retired from Rockwell Collins after 52 years of work there.

"I see no use for a casino in our city," Koop said on Monday. "Every dollar you put in, you might get 10 cents back. Itís only worthwhile to the casino and the state."

Also listed as coalition members are Leonard Hadley, a former chairman of Maytag Corp. and a 2003 member of the Linn County anti-casino group No Dice, and David Osterberg, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, an associate professor of the University of Iowa and also a 2003 member of the No Dice group.

"I believe such establishments exploit the poor," Osterberg said in October after a group of Cedar Rapids investors said they would seek Linn County voter support to build a casino in Cedar Rapids.

The Vote Yes Linn County group is now at the end of a petition drive to obtain 11,872 signatures, an amount equal to 10 percent of those who voted in Linn County in Novemberís general election and the number needed by state law to prompt a vote on gaming in Linn County.

Just Say No Casino also is conducting a petition drive, and on Monday the group said people can sign its petition at www.JustSayNoCasino.com.

Marcia Rogers, communications director for the Vote Yes campaign, said on Monday that the campaign is "very close" to securing the number of signatures it needs to prompt a Linn County vote at a special election on May 7.

"Weíre so excited by the support," Rogers said. She added, "Everybody has a right to oppose an issue. ... Thatís what makes a great democracy."

Last week, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, the Cedar Rapids Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council and the Building Pros of Eastern Iowa came out in support of the casino proposal.

More than 40 mostly local investors, led by Steve Gray and doing business as Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, say they will invest $80 million to $100 million to build a new casino.

Gray has said that the investors will bring in experts to help them decide the best location for casino, a task that will be undertaken once the petition drive is complete, he has said.

Sam Roecker, of LinkStrategies of Des Moines, is working as a consultant for the Just Say No Casino.

Casino interests in cities closest to Cedar Rapids are expected to help provide support to the Just Say No Casino effort because of the thought that a Cedar Rapids casino will draw people from their casinos and hurt those ventures.

Casino backers in Cedar Rapids will need to convince the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission to permit a casino in the Cedar Rapids area if voters in Linn County agree to permit gambling in the county.

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