Cedar Rapids casino vote: picking winners and losers

Jennifer Hemmingsen
Published: March 2 2013 | 7:11 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 12:10 pm in

It’s like our own little version of Clash of the Titans, a battle of “rich people vs. rich people,” as at least one person quipped when they heard Friday’s offer.

Riverside Casino owner Dan Kehl’s announcement — that he would build a $30 million riverfront water park and event center in Cedar Rapids if Linn County voters shut down Tuesday’s casino vote — had us mere mortals buzzing.

Which would we rather have, a water park or casino? KCRG-TV9 asked people to weigh in on Twitter. Responses were mixed. Some thought a water park would bring more visitors, others thought a casino would make more money. Some liked the family friendliness of Kehl’s idea. Others weren’t convinced.

I’m not a Linn County voter and I don’t have strong feelings about casinos. Anyway, as Just Say No Casino spokesman Todd Henderson said last week during our Insights on Iowa podcast, Tuesday’s vote isn’t a referendum on gaming, it’s a vote about a specific proposal. I don’t have a horse in that race. But Kehl does. He estimates a Cedar Rapids casino would eat about 30 percent of his business. Hence, the generous offer.

Already in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election, we’ve listened to grand promises and dire predictions about what will happen if voters say yes, knowing full well the reality will fall somewhere in between. We’ve had the push polls and character attacks we’ve come to expect in any election with stakes higher than choosing a high school homecoming court.

We’ve been bombarded by TV ads bankrolled by moneyed interests and featuring “regular folks” trying to persuade us to their cause. Heck, Kehl already sank more than a half-million dollars into the Just Say No campaign — we hardly raised an eyebrow.

Friday, we were introduced to a new campaign tactic — the thinly veiled bribe. We’ll find out soon enough how many voters are buying.

And I can't help but wonder what voters would have said if they’d been asked in the first place what the city should do with that bit of land down on First Street NW. If they’d had a chance to weigh in on the idea of a casino — any casino — not just one group’s proposal.

We hear a lot these days about governments picking winners and losers. I guess it’s voters’ turn.

To an outside observer with nothing at stake, Tuesday’s vote is looking less and less like a referendum, and more like choosing sides.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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