- Associated Press - Thursday, April 17, 2014

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission rejected a proposed $164 million Cedar Rapids casino Thursday, saying it would hurt existing casinos.

Supporters of the Cedar Crossing Casino development have said it would give an economic boost to Cedar Rapids and the region. They also argued it would be a catalyst for development in an area ravaged by a 2008 flood, create jobs and generate millions for tax revenue and charities.

But representatives of casinos in Riverside, Dubuque and Waterloo fought the plan, saying it would take business away from them.

The five-member commission voted 4 to 1 against the new casino during a meeting in Council Bluffs, with more than 300 people attending. There is no process to appeal the decision.

All of the panel members praised Cedar Rapids plans as top-notch, but cited studies commissioned by the panel last year that found Iowa’s gambling market was saturated. One of the studies said the commission should focus on reinvesting in existing casinos rather than licensing any new operations.

The state of 3. 1 million people currently has more than 20 casinos, and existing casino operators have complained that the market is getting crowded. Additional casino developments would force layoffs and hurt local nonprofit groups that use charitable money given by current casinos, the existing casino operators said.

The commission’s vote was consistent with its policy in recent years. The panel hasn’t approved a new casino license since 2010, when it called for a three- to five-year moratorium due to concerns about market saturation.

The lone member who voted to approve the proposal, Dolores Mertz of Algona, said she didn’t “want to put anyone out of business,” but thinks industry - including Iowa’s casino gambling industry -should be market driven.

But commission chairman Jeff Lamberti said the panel’s goal is to provide a “stable and predictable gaming environment” in Iowa.

“The commission has never taken the position that it’s a free market system for gaming in Iowa,” Lamberti said.

Last month, more than 500 people packed the commission’s hearing in Cedar Rapids on the proposed casino, which would have been located near Interstate 380. The majority were supporters of the project, but a vocal contingent opposing the development came from the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort in the small town of Riverside about 40 miles south of Cedar Rapids.

Riverside CEO Dan Kehl had said he likely would be forced to lay off about 250 of its 750 workers if the commission approved the Cedar Rapids project, which he said would take 30 percent or more of Riverside’s business.

But Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett insisted that casino gambling in Iowa has grown stagnant, and that the state commission encouraged community leaders to apply for a casino license. Based on that encouragement, organizers put together an investor group, financing, acquired a site, and secured management for the casino and development agreements with the county and city, among other things, Corbett said.

“It’s millions of dollars of work,” he said. “We’ve done everything they’ve asked us to do. We had all of our I’s dotted and all of our T’s crossed.”

The Cedar Crossing Casino plan had called for a $138 million development that would include a casino, several restaurants and a 400-seat events center designed to attract touring entertainment acts, with most of the investors local business leaders. The city also would have built a $26 million parking ramp across the street.

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