Linn County voters may see gambling referendum on the ballot this year

Image by stokpic from Pixabay

Local officials in Linn County are trying to decide if they should put the county’s gambling referendum on the ballot this year, as well as when the best time for a vote would be, the Gazette reported on Sunday. This would (again) bring Cedar Rapids a step closer in its attempt to develop a casino.

The referendum could be placed on the Nov. 2 ballot when voters will make their picks for city council and school board, or a special election could be held in March or September, the county’s deputy elections commissioner Rebecca Stonawski said.

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

Voters overwhelming authorized licensed gambling in 2013, but that authorization expires this year. This time voters would be asked to approve permanently authorizing licensed gambling in Linn County.

But even if the measure passes, creating a casino would still require the approval of the Iowa Racking and Gaming Commission (IRGC). The five-member commission 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.

Commission member Kristine Kramer said in 2017 that Linn County might have missed its opportunity for a casino. She pointed to 2003 when the IRGC recommended Cedar Rapids as a site for a casino, but Linn County voters rejected a referendum authorizing licensed gambling by 53 to 47 percent.

“Cedar Rapids has been through a lot,” Kramer said in 2017. “I have seen the energy of its citizens to rebuild after a devastating flood. … Cedar Rapids is Iowa’s second-largest city. But, you were the second-largest city when you turned gaming down.”

The vote in 2017 was 3 to 2 against the Cedar Rapids casino proposals. Of that five-member board, Kramer is the only member who is still serving. Her term will expire at the end of April.

There has been no decision on the location for a casino, according to Hart.

The First and First West site was the location proposed in 2014 and 2017, but that is no longer an option. The Cedar Rapids City Council approved a resolution last June to use the eight acres of land to develop a Big Grove Brewery, movie theater and an ice skating rink, among other attractions and features.

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