By Quad-City Times
Davenport’s exploration of casino ownership must come to an end now.
Perhaps it can be resurrected under new leadership, with a broader-based exploratory group. But the plan promoted by City Administrator Craig Malin, Mayor Bill Gluba and a city council majority portends risk and failure even if Iowa’s Racing and Gaming Commission can somehow stomach the rampant conflicts of interest.
The network of interlocking oversight boards already has presented conflicts that forced some members to resign and others to recuse themselves from major decisions. Those conflicts get worse if this comes off the drawing board.
Concerns respectfully raised by former Quad-Cities Development Group director John Gardner show the breadth of risk this project brings to the city and its taxpayers. Many of those concerns might be addressed through a transparent, collaborative process. But this process has been a cobbled mess of confrontation and secrecy.
Collaboration is essential not just to swing the purchase, but to make good on the sketchy revenue projections that seem to be driving council support. The accusations swirling among council and RDA members are a crippling rift to any collaborative plan.
All of this raised serious questions among our editorial board members. But Malin’s reported job offer to the Isle’s longtime Rhythm City general manager cemented our opposition. Emails confirmed circulating rumors that Malin planned to hire Mo Hyder — the Isle’s Bettendorf and Rhythm City general manager — to oversee the city’s casino.
Malin serves as city administrator and a founding member of the Davenport Community Improvement Corp. Neither role empowered him to offer a job for an entity yet to be created by aldermen, the RDA or DCIC.
Hyder’s decision to accept a casino management job elsewhere avoids this awkward conflict. But many others remain.
We commend Malin and his team for pursuing a larger piece of the Quad-City gaming pie. But as committed, professionally trained government leaders, they obviously already are struggling to understand the intensely competitive gambling business. The casino business will only get tougher with greater competition from online gaming, as well as the digital machines cropping up all over Rock Island County.
This dogged pursuit of more gambling money is dividing the city, straining relationships between the council and business community and alienating good city partners like Restoration St. Louis. Pursuing it further, in our view, exposes taxpayers to possible litigation among these conflicted parties even before a nickel of taxpayer money is pledged as collateral to buy and build a casino. No one involved can even tell taxpayers if they’ll be on the hook for a $50 million or $100 million loan. Worst of all, taxpayers never will be asked.
The debt doesn’t necessarily scare us.
Our opposition is to a less-than-transparent process, fractured leadership structure, dogged resistance to a referendum and, finally, Malin’s secret employment offer.
None builds the confidence needed to persuade Davenport taxpayers that their casino investment will be in capable hands