Area casino market saturated

March 28, 2014 | 12:39 pm

By Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

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We cannot and will not begrudge Linn County residents for giving their approval to a casino in the Cedar Rapids area.

They’re after the same things Cedar Valley residents were after when we voted to approve a new casino in Waterloo: jobs, an economic development anchor, entertainment and a lure for visitors. That’s just for starters.

The Black Hawk County Gaming Association — the nonprofit holder of the state gaming license for the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo — receives and distributes 5.75 percent of the Isle’s adjusted gross revenues for community grants in the Cedar Valley.

That’s helped bankroll some major projects across the region.

It should be noted that Linn County casino proponents are only targeting 3 percent of adjusted gross revenues for charitable contributions — the state-mandated minimum.

As we’ve stated before, we don’t want to lose a dime of revenue for the Cedar Valley to a competing casino. Conversely, we understand Linn County’s motivations.

However, three casinos within 150 miles on Interstate 380/U.S. Highway 218 — at Waterloo, Cedar Rapids and Riverside — would be creating a bit of a crowd.

The decision is now in the hands of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

A few years back, the cities of Fort Dodge and Ottumwa joined Franklin, Tama and Lyon counties in seeking the go-ahead to build casinos. In the end, the commission granted only one of those wishes, approving a license for relatively out-of-the-way Lyon County in northwest Iowa. At the time, the commission cited oversaturation of the Iowa gaming markets.

Based on that previous assessment, we would be surprised to learn that has changed.

Former Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley, now chairman of the BHCGA, pointed out that early studies showed the Isle could draw 15-20 percent of its revenue from Linn County. That’s now what we could lose should the commission grant Linn County a casino license.

“I think the market is saturated; I can’t believe if they get a license and put up a casino that it won’t, in the end, hurt us,” Hurley said.

It will take several months for the investor group to complete work required to submit an application to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

Cedar Rapids and Waterloo-Cedar Falls have shared a unique intrastate relationship — especially after 1985 when the completion of Interstate 380 cut the travel time between the two approximately in half.

The economic value for both areas has been apparent ever since. An adversarial relationship is not ideal. However, territorialism isn’t about hurting others. It’s about protecting your own assets.

The commission is faced with tough decisions whenever a community comes to them looking for a license. Members understand what a casino can mean to any community. On the other hand, they also need be protective of the casinos that they have already opened.

We believe the state casino market — especially in eastern Iowa — is indeed saturated. But why wouldn’t we? We’ve got ours.

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