We knew that existing casinos within a poker chip's throw of Cedar Rapids would spend a chunk of money trying to defeat a March 5 gambling referendum in Linn County, which could lead to a new Cedar Rapids casino.
Now we know how much one of those casinos is willing to spend. Quite a bit, it turns out.
According to a document filed with the Racing and Gaming Commission, Riverside Casino and Golf Resort plans to pump up to $1.5 million into Just Say No Casino, the group opposing the referendum. The document is a "request for transaction," or basically a purchase approval form, because state-licensed casinos must clear all purchases of $100,000 or more with the commission.
Usually, it's routine stuff. Electricity, booze, food, slot machines, etc. But on the list of purchases Riverside filed with the commission ahead of its March 7 meeting, we find the category "referendum." The "vendor," in this case, is Just Say No Casino, and the cost listed is $1.5 million.
Rick Smith has the story and a copy of the document here.
Within the circles I move, that's a big cash pile. Enough to buy TV ads, mail pieces and other electioneering bric-a-brac.
Just Say No Casino says don't get too excited.
"The number from the IRGC doesn't mean a lot because it's only an authorization to spend that amount, it doesn't mean that is what has or will be spent on this campaign. In fact, we've spent a total of about $600,000 at this point - Vote Yes has spent around $650,000 on television alone," said Sam Roecker, spokesman for Just Say No Casino, in an email.
"The Linn County casino investors are spending a great deal more than us, but we've kept this competitive and have a tied race. That's because people are skeptical of this plan and know that it's not a good deal for Linn County," Roecker said.
But Riverside's money presents a serious message problem for Just Say No, whose local advocates have been telling anyone who will listen about the evils of gambling, its impact on the poor, its potential to exact social costs on the community, its fueling of addictive behaviors. They also argue that a new casino would prey mostly on locals who don't gamble now.
And yet, Just Say No's campaign is being fueled by the proceeds of demon gambling elsewhere, from an existing casino interest that seems pretty convinced that a casino here will attract a lot of local gamblers who currently dump bucks into its establishment. And I'm betting Riverside won't be the only casino joining the fight.
It helps Vote Yes Linn County re-frame the referendum as they see it - Linn County residents already gamble, so putting a casino here means keeping that money in the county. Existing casinos don't like that, and are behind the campaign to stop it.
For weeks, Just Say No has made plenty of hay portraying Vote Yes and its investors as shady and secretive. Now, opponents will be forced to play defense.
Does it change the game? My magic 8 ball says "cannot predict now." But it is a significant development.