Iowa lawmaker calls for moratorium on gaming licenses

“The problem is that right now I think we are on pace for 99 casinos in 99 counties”

James Q. Lynch
Published: December 4 2013 | 6:08 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:28 am in
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Calling the Iowa Legislature “addicted to gaming at the budget level,” a Sioux City lawmaker is calling for a moratorium on gambling licenses.

“I understand others want their share,” Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, said Wednesday, “but I think it’s time we look at putting, maybe, a moratorium on gaming and gaming licenses.

“It’s not real popular,” the Senate Republican whip said at a Des Moines Partnership legislative preview luncheon in Des Moines.

Not popular enough to win legislative approval, Bertrand conceded later, “but we’ll talk about it.”

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha doesn’t know whether or not the Legislature will talk about a gambling moratorium, but he agrees with Bertrand that it won’t be approved.

“We’ve already had this debate,” said Paulsen, who also spoke at the luncheon.

“If you don’t have consensus on the issue, whatever the issue is, relatively early in the session it probably doesn’t have a real good shot this year,” Paulsen said about the session which will begin Jan. 13. “And that’s something that’s a long ways from any kind of consensus.”

Paulsen represents a portion of Cedar Rapids, but not the downtown area where developers are seeking a license to locate a casino.

Bertrand, who represents a community with a casino, made clear he supports gaming, including online gaming.

“The problem is that right now I think we are on pace for 99 casinos in 99 counties,” he said.

The state has become dependent on gambling revenue, Bertrand said. According to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s 2012 annual report, the casinos paid $286 million in gaming taxes.

“I’m concerned about cannibalization, about diluting the casinos to the point we have 60 half-full casinos that no one wants to go to,” Bertrand said.

It’s time, he said, for lawmakers to “take a step back and take a look at what is happening not just from a social impact but from a fiscal impact throughout the state.”

Wes Ehrecke, president of the Iowa Gaming Association, said there’s little if any political support for a moratorium because the present process for granting gambling licenses has been successful – and addresses Bertrand’s concerns.

Iowa voters have to approve a county gambling referendum before developers can apply for a casino license.

“Then the commission does a very, very thorough vetting,” Ehrecke said, adding that not every county that has approved a referendum has received a casino license.

“The model that has been in place has been working pretty well,” he said.

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