Iowa gaming regulator awaits governor’s decision on proposed casino moratorium

The bill still needs governor Kim Reynolds’ approval.
The bill still needs governor Kim Reynolds’ approval.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission must wait to see if the state governor signs off on a two-year moratorium on new casino licences before it can accept a Linn County casino application.

US.- The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission has raised concerns a bill passed by the state legislature setting a two-year moratorium on new casino approvals would introduce politics into Iowa’s gaming operations. It says it will wait to see if Iowa governor Kim Reynolds signs the bill before deciding whether it can accept an application for a casino in Linn County.

Reynolds has not publicly indicated whether she will sign the bill. She has 30 days from the legislative session to review bills with her staff and make a decision.

The commission’s administrator Brian Ohorilko said “At least at this point, it’ll be difficult to do much in terms of moving forward with an application process and until that moratorium is out, if indeed that bill goes into law.”

Commissioner Daryl Olsen said commissioners were “surprised” and “disappointed” with the moratorium.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, who chairs the House State Government Committee, said the objective of the moratorium is to preserve an “equilibrium” in the number of casinos.

Kaufmann said he’s concerned that with 19 state-licensed casinos, and 23 casinos in total, Iowa’s gambling market was saturated, which he fears could impact on casinos’ donations to local nonprofits. The Iowa Gaming Association’s president, Wes Ehrecke, said the group supports the moratorium.

However, Cedar Rapids mayor Tiffany O’Donnell has sent a letter to Reynolds, asking her to veto the bill. She had previously said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that this can happen seemingly in the dark of night without the city to even have the opportunity to respond.”

The Cedar Rapids casino project

In March, the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission opened the licence application process for a new casino in Cedar Rapids, Linn County, after around 55 per cent of voters in Linn County, Iowa, said yes to a casino last November, however the regulator could still deny a gaming licence.

Attempts to bring a casino to Cedar Rapids failed in 2014 and 2017. On both occasions, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission said a casino would take away from other nearby casinos.

Developer Jonathan Swain, president of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the potential Cedar Rapids casino operator, said it seems the commission recognizes that the citizens have said twice now they want a casino: “I think they feel this responsibility as a commission to respect the vote of the citizens and the will of the Cedar Rapidians that voted for this.” 

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