Branstad says he won't be involved in Cedar Rapids casino license decision

Responsibility for decision lies with Racing and Gaming Association, governor maintains

James Q. Lynch
Published: February 26 2014 | 1:50 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 4:11 am in

DES MOINES – Gov. Terry Branstad made clear Wednesday he will not play a part in deciding whether a proposed casino in Cedar Rapids gets a gaming license.

The governor deflected questions about the proposed Cedar Crossing Casino and reports earlier this week that it would significantly “cannibalize” business from existing casinos, especially the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort.

The governor repeatedly said that he has never involved himself in gaming license decisions “and I intend to do that” in this case, he told reporters.

“This is the responsibility of Racing and Gaming Commission,” he said. “They have gone through this before, to analyze and review proposals and make a decision as to whether additional licenses should be issued.”

The governor was more frank about a proposal to end greyhound racing in Iowa, which he called a “dying industry.”

The Racing and Gaming Commission ultimately will make the decision to end greyhound racing, but legislation with bipartisan backing would provide Iowa dog breeders and kennel owners with $70 million over seven years to end racing is alive in the House. Workers at the tracks would be guaranteed jobs in the casinos.

In the meantime, the commission will meet next Thursday at the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona to hear formal presentations from the two firms that conducted the casino market analyses. One firm projected that the Riverside venue south of Iowa City would lose $25 million or 27 percent of its revenue by 2017, while the second said it would lose $37.3 million or 42 percent of its revenue in 2016.

Asked about protecting the state’s bottom line – revenue from the casinos funds a variety of state programs, Branstad again deferred to the Racing and Gaming Commission. His role in the decision-making ends with his vetting of appointees to the commission, Branstad said.

“My responsibility is to appoint good people who are fair and will treat everybody in an equitable way,” he said. “That’s the way I’ve always approached it. I have never tried to influence or interfere with their decision-making process and I have confidence they will do what they feel is the appropriate thing.”

Branstad will leave a decision about ending dog racing in Iowa up to the commission, too. However, he said that if dog racing is ended, the Iowans involved must be protected.

If racing is terminated, he wants it resolved in a way that is “fair to all parties” and “protects the interest of dog breeders and taxpayers.”

He also said it doesn’t make sense to open a track at Ottumwa, as has been proposed, at a time when the Waterloo track has been closed for years and the existing tracks want to close.

Ending dog racing has the backing of city leaders and economic development groups in Council Bluffs and Dubuque.

“Greyhound racing is the Blockbuster Video of the gaming industry,” Rick Dickinson, president of the Greater Dubuque Development Corp., said at a, Iowans for Ending Dig Racing news conference at the Statehouse Wednesday.

Five years ago the video rental company had more than 40,000 employees. Today, he said, it is bankrupt because the “industry changed around it and people voted, voted with their feet.”

The same is true of greyhound racing in Iowa. Betting on the races has been declining since 1989 and the amount bet at the two remaining tracks has decreased 97 percent from $186 million when it started in 1986 to less than $6 million in 2012.

Comments: (319 398-8375; james.lynch@sourcemedia.net

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