So Linn County casino backers scored a big 61-39 victory Tuesday. I was surprised, as I said previously.
But will that margin impress the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which will have the final word on whether a Cedar Rapids casino plan gets a state license?
Well, clearly, it doesn’t hurt. In the last decade, only one casino license went to a county where a referendum passed with less than 60 percent of the vote. Palo Alto (Emmetsburg), Worth, Black Hawk and Lyon counties all cleared 60 percent. (Palo Alto and Worth actually cleared 70 percent) Only Riverside got a license after Washington County approved gambling with less than 60 percent, 52-48.
Wapello, Franklin, Webster and Tama counties approved gambling with voter support in the mid 50s. None received licenses.
Of course, many, many other factors played into those licensing sagas, the quality of plans, economics, etc. But it seems like crossing the 60 percent threshold is a good, maybe even necessary, first step. It’s also remarkable because the 2003 referendum here failed by 6 percentage points.
Turnout was high enough Tuesday to give the outcome some credibility. In 2003, just north of 58,000 Linn County voters cast ballots. This time, 60,267 voted, or just short of 40 percent of registered voters.
One big difference. In 2003, 4,846 absentee ballots were cast. This time it was 19,324.
Just Say No Casino lost 12,373 to 6,939 among those absentees and 24,503 to 16,452 (59.8-40.2) among voters who marched to the polls on a snowy election day.
Vote Yes Linn County won 82 of 86 precincts, including three where its support topped 70 percent.
But it wasn’t a landslide everywhere. In the precinct that votes at Marion’s Lowe Park in Marion, gambling prevailed 148-145. It was also very close at the Marion Public Library, with vote yes narrowly winning 214-210. In Cedar Rapids’ precinct 24, voting at Bethany Lutheran, the referendum squeaked through 417-404.
In my home precinct, voting at Marion’s Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, gambling carried the day 316-217.
Here’s a chart from the Racing and Gaming Commission showing referendum results over the last decade: