Riverside Casino and Golf Resort has notified the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission that it may spend $1.5 million on the Just Say No Casino campaign to defeat the March 5 referendum to allow casino gambling in Linn County.
The Riverside gambling venue, which opened in August 2006 15 miles south of Iowa City, is the closest of Iowa’s 18 casinos to Cedar Rapids, and so could be the one that feels the greatest impact if a Cedar Rapids casino is developed
That the Riverside casino is spending money to defeat the Linn County ballot measure is not a surprise, but the potential size of the spending is.
On Friday afternoon, Steve Gray and Drew Skogman, who are leading the Cedar Rapids casino investor group, reacted angrily to the state commission’s disclosure of the Riverside casino’s spending projections, a disclosure which the investor group sought from the commission.
"Riverside Casino is bankrolling the degrading TV ads, nasty mail pieces and scurrilous social media attacks," said Skogman, vice president of Skogman Homes, in a statement. "All (the while) trying to convince Linn County to keep shipping their money and jobs to their casino. Now we know, the hypocrisy can stop."
Sam Roecker, a consultant for the Just Say No Casino campaign, was quick on Friday to say that the $1.5 million figure reported to the state commission is a request for the Riverside Casino to spend that amount of money, but does not mean the casino has or will.
To date, Just Say No Casino has spent about $600,000 on its effort to defeat the March 5 casino referendum in Linn County, Roecker said.
"We are being outspent in this campaign," he insisted.
Roecker estimated that Gray, Skogman and their Cedar Rapids casino investor group have spent more than $630,000 alone on TV ads for the pro-casino Vote Yes Linn County campaign.
Gray didn’t deny that his investor group, Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, is spending money, too.
"We are spending substantially more than we planned to spend as a result of their demeaning, critical, scurrilous attack on me and the investor group," Gray said.
At a public forum on Tuesday in Cedar Rapids, Gray intimated that the Riverside Casino was spending a large sum, and he pointedly told the Just Say No Casino group that existing casinos had to inform the state Racing & Gaming Commission of any expenditures over $100,000.
On Wednesday, Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the state commission, reported that, in fact, one existing casino had submitted an expenditure report related to the Linn County referendum, and on Friday, the commission released the report submitted to it by the Riverside Casino.
One line item in the Riverside casino report lists an expenditure of $1.5 million to the Just Say No Casino campaign as part of a contract to run from Jan. 1, 2013, through Dec. 31, 2013.
Dan Franz, the Riverside Casino general manager, did not return a call on Friday. But the casino’s CEO, Dan Kehl, has made no secret in recent months about his displeasure with the idea of a Cedar Rapids casino.
"It would devastate the Riverside casino," Kehl has said.
Gray wondered on Friday if other Iowa casinos also were spending money on the Just Say No Casino campaign, but less than the $100,000 figure that requires a report to the state commission. He suspected that the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel in Tama County also was contributing to the anti-casino campaign in Linn County. The Indian casino , though, is not regulated by the state commission.
What is clear is that Cedar Rapids and Linn County are being blanketed with advertisements and campaign literature, from both the Just Say No Casino and the pro-casino campaign, Vote Yes Linn County.
Brent Oleson, a Linn County supervisor and a member of the five-member Linn County Gaming Association Inc. board that would hold a state gaming license for a casino in Linn County, said Friday the Riverside casino’s report of spending on the Just Say No Casino effort "verifies what I always knew."
"It’s us versus them," Oleson said. "They clearly want to keep Linn County money flowing to their community, rather than us keeping it."