Grow Greene County and Wild Rose Entertainment got the green light for a casino and its companion convention facility from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission at the Commission’s regular meeting this morning in Burlington. The vote went to the finish, with a 2-2 vote before Commission chair Jeff Lamberti cast the final vote, a “yes.”
The Commission voted 3-2 to approve the gaming license for the proposed $40 million facility. About 25 Greene County residents, including almost all the Grow Greene County group, was present. All the Commissioners spoke very highly of the participation of residents in the process. “I feel very pleased and proud of the way you approached it,” Commissioner Carl Heinrich said in his comments, aimed at both supporters and opponents of the application.
Heinrich cast the first vote, a “no” vote. He said he had looked carefully at the data from casino market studies done for the Commission, and that with the negative impact named in the studies, and no advantage to the state (the studies showed little new gaming revenues were likely), he did not support the application.
Dolores Mertz voted second. She said that as an Iowa legislator, she had learned that the political divide in the state is not as much Democrat vs. Republican, but urban vs. rural. “Competition is good for you. It makes you more alert, a better observer of what’s going on,” she said, and then praised Prairie Meadows for improvements already underway. After talking about the benefits of the proposed casino, she added, “Rural Iowa is missing something. Sometimes, can’t rural Iowa have a little piece of the action?”
Mertz said her gut feeling is that a casino in Greene County would be a good thing and she noted the 75 percent approval of the August referendum. She voted “yes.”
Kris Kramer cast the third vote, a “no.” Her comments were brief as she explained that her vote was based on the market studies. She said now is not the time for another casino in Iowa.
Commission member Rich Arnold tied the vote with his “yes” vote. He also made only brief comments, but said that he found the projected negative impact on existing casinos to be minimal.
The approximately 125 persons in the room were silent and alert as Lamberti began his comments. He echoed what other Commission members had said about the quality of the effort and the difficulty of the decision. “We all studied the criteria set forth in Code and in our administrative rules, but we’re also all entitled to judge those criteria and how much weight we put on those, which ones really make a difference for us in making our final decision,” he said. “That’s what’s unique about the system we have in Iowa. There are no magic guidelines that tell us when we should issue a license and when we should deny, and that makes it very difficult on us as individual commissioners. But we all do that. We all study and we all listen. We weigh this against those criteria with one idea in mind, and that is to arrive at the best decision we can, one that we can support, one that we believe is in the best interest of the state of Iowa.”
Lamberti also talked about a “gut feeling.” “I can go back and forth almost day by day in coming to my decision. Quite frankly, as Dolores mentioned, a lot of it comes down to your gut, to what you believe, and in the end if it’s the right decision for the state of Iowa.”
He said he sees a positive economic benefit of a casino in Greene County. He also sees an impact on existing facilities. He said he lives in Ankeny, and he based his decision on optimism about the future of Polk County. ”We’ve had lots of advantages in Polk County, and we have lots of advantages that are going to come in the future. We’ve got significant population growth amongst all of our suburbs. We’ve got some things that are in the works that are quite historic by Iowa standards. Quite frankly we have advantages that other parts of the state don’t have, and quite frankly, I think we’re going to be just fine.”
“I also, being from Polk County, have an interest in making sure that the rural folks get a part of this as well,” he said before saying he wouldn’t draw the decision out any longer.
“I feel confident that the decision we’re going to make is the right decision, though I respect everybody’s decision on this because it is that close of a decision. I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong call on this. We all have to go with what we believe and we’ll make our decision and we’ll move on,” Lamberti said. At that point he cast his “yes” vote. Only about 10 seconds of applause followed, and the Commissioners approved the formal motion with specific criteria Wild Rose Entertainment must meet along the way. -GreeneCountyNewsOnline