CasinoClash — Decision Day Approaches! Predictions?

Published: April 16 2014 | 10:23 am - Updated: 16 April 2014 | 11:14 am in 24 hour Dorman, Blogs, Front Rotator, Opinion,

At its core, over the past 17-plus months, CasinoClash has been all about the numbers.

15,000 — Approximate number of signatures on petitions calling for a March 2013 gambling referendum in Linn County.

$3.4 million — That’s how much was spent on the campaign to pass or defeat that gambling referendum, $1.5 million by Riverside Casino’s Dan Kehl and Just Say No Casino and $1.9 million by lead investor Steve Gray and Vote Yes Linn County.

60,279 — The number of voters who turned out to vote in March 2013.

1 — Number of water parks they were offered by Kehl in exchange for voting no.

61 — Percentage of voters who voted yes.

$165 million — Price tag for the Cedar Crossing Casino and adjacent parking complex.

840 — Number of gaming machines planned, with 30-35 table games.

3 — Restaurants in the casino.

$81 million — Projected Cedar Crossing revenue in 2017, according to a Marquette Advisors market study

$59 million — Amount Marquette says would come from “cannibalization” of existing casinos, including $25 million from Riverside’s annual revenue.

0 — The number of new casinos state-commissioned studies recommend for approval.

$532 million — Estimated value of potential development on 9.7 million square feet of available property within 1 mile of proposed casino, according to Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett.

500 — Estimate of new casino jobs created.

250 — Estimate of jobs potentially lost at Riverside if CR license is approved.

18 — Number of state-licensed casinos in Iowa, creating a market near “saturation” according to market studies.

$1.4 billion — Iowa gambling revenue in 2013, according to Marquette.

5 — Members of Racing and Gaming Commission who make the final call Thursday morning.

0 — Number of full days left until that decision.

1 bazillion -- Columns and posts I’ve written on this saga.

Thursday’s commission meeting at the Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs starts at 8:30 a.m., but Cedar Crossing is the last item on its agenda. Folks who have pumped their money, time and hopes into this thing probably aren’t going to sleep much.

I don’t have a good sense for what’s going to happen. A couple Sundays ago I explored the possibilities, and my assessment still stands.

Here’s what I wrote:

The bad news for Cedar Crossing backers is that saying no is the commission’s easiest option. Past commissions have rejected casino license applications that, according to independent studies, would take a significant share of their revenues from existing facilities, aka cannibalization. This commission now has two studies that say Cedar Crossing would do just that to Riverside and the Isle in Waterloo.

So voting no embraces a comfortable past practice. And it makes nice with multiple existing members of the casino cartel. In all the years I’ve watched boards and commissions operate, I’ve seen the seductive power of the status quo. Cedar Rapids’ opponents know this, which is why they argued repeatedly Thursday that a Cedar Crossing license would “destabilize” the casino industry. Don’t rock the boat.

... Voting yes is a more complicated prospect, but there are perfectly good reasons.

For starters, Cedar Crossing is a well-planned, well-crafted and well-financed casino project that has lots of local support. Even its staunchest detractors admit that. As proposals go, it’s one of the best, most complete they’ll see. That has to count for something.

And although the headlines spawned by the commission’s market studies shout cannibalization, the fine print suggests a changing Iowa gambling market.

Gamblers are becoming less willing to take road trips to gamble and are less interested in resort amenities such as golf courses. A Cedar Crossing Casino, situated in the middle of an urban area, with no costly resort amenities to maintain and with lots of gamblers nearby, would be well positioned to cash in on that changing market and remain a steady, healthy source of state tax revenues. That’s the industry’s future.

Commissioners might simply discount those dire cannibalization numbers as overly pessimistic and sidestep the commission’s cartel-protecting tradition in favor of a more free-market approach. They may decide the industry is mature enough to endure new competition.

(End excerpt.)

Based on what I’ve seen in past years, and from what I know about how the casino cartel operates, I’m leaning pessimistic at this moment. But this is a different commission, all appointed since 2011, and they face a much tougher decision than the commission did in turning down Fort Dodge, Ottumwa and Tama in 2010. So a yes vote remains entirely possible. So drama!

I’ll have a long time to think about this stuff as I drive to Council Bluffs this afternoon. Please share your own thoughts and predictions.


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