Gambling will be back on the ballot in Linn County this year

Image by Aidan Howe from Pixabay

The fate of gambling in Linn County, including the possibility of a Cedar Rapids casino, will be decided by voters this year.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution last week that will place the gambling referendum on the November ballot. County officials were discussing the measure and the best time for a vote earlier this year.

Voters overwhelmingly authorized licensed gambling in 2013, but that authorization expires this year. The measure must be voted on and approved twice with an eight-year separation between the votes for gambling to be permanent in the county.

The yes-or-no vote is not for a specific casino or proposed casino, the county said in a news release.

“A yes vote means Linn County will allow gambling — it does not mean that a casino will be developed in Linn County,” the county said. “Approval of a specific gambling facility in Linn County has additional requirements, including an application and approval by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.”

Cedar Rapids has been eyeing a casino for years. The five-member Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) has already rejected proposals for a casino in Cedar Rapids twice since 2013. In both 2014 and 2017, the IRGC based those rejections on concerns that adding another casino in the state would hurt business at existing ones, citing the lack of growth in Iowa’s gaming businesses.

“It’s the last big city in Iowa that doesn’t have gambling,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart told the Gazette in February. “So I think there really is a market here for someone to do it right.”

Also in November, voters will be asked about extending the local option sales tax, which is used to fund street repair, construction and other infrastructure projects. The sales tax went into effect in July 2014 and expires June 30, 2024, unless it’s renewed.

Voters in Cedar Rapids, Marion and Fairfax can expect to see the sales tax referendum on the ballot this November. The city councils in Hiawatha and Robins are expected to vote on the measure later this month, the Gazette reported.

A majority of residents in the voting bloc must vote in favor for the measure to pass. Residents in unincorporated Linn County will also be asked about extending the tax, with the outcome decided separately from the metro voting bloc. The Linn County Board of Supervisors agreed on Monday to put the measure on the ballot.

Mayors and other elected officials encouraged residents in May to vote “yes” on extending the tax for another 10 years.

Residents in the metro area voting bloc of Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, Robins and Fairfax voted in favor of the 1 percent sales tax in 2013 after turning down the measure in 2011 and 2012. About 62 percent of residents voted in favor of the 10-year extension.

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Ron Corbett, the vice president of economic development at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and a former mayor of Cedar Rapids, said earlier this year that $31 million a year should be available between all jurisdictions. Once the money is divided per city, it is up to the individual cities to decide what projects the funds will be allocated toward.

In Cedar Rapids, the funds are used solely for maintenance, repair and construction of the city’s streets through a program called Paving for Progress.

The election will take place on Nov. 2.