August 10, 2015 by Douglas Burns
Wild Rose Jefferson’s grand opening last weekend drew 12,976 people through the casino-and-entertainment’s gaming floor — and even more to enjoy The Gambler himself, live and in the flesh, fireworks, food at a new restaurant, Coaches Corner, Las Vegas showgirls and plaudits from top casino executives, community leaders and state officials.
“It is our obligation to make this the greatest event you’ve ever had in your community,” said Gary Kirke, chairman and founder of Wild Rose Casino and Resort, which operates gaming facilities in Emmetsburg and Clinton as well. “I hope we live up to your faith and trust.”
The casino ribbon-cutting program took place at about 6 p.m. Friday with 200 people in attendance. An hour later, country music great Kenny Rogers opened to the first of two sellout crowds at Wild Rose Jefferson, which brought a combined audience of 2,200 people.
From 8 a.m. Friday to 2 a.m. this morning, Wild Rose Jefferson recorded a casino-floor patron count of 12,976.
“It will probably be a number we’ll never break again,” said Tom Timmons, president and chief operating officer of Wild Rose.
From July 13, its soft opening through midnight Saturday, the casino slot-machine jackpot payouts totalled $556,700.
The $40-million Jefferson casino brings the number of state-regulated casinos in Iowa to 19. There are three tribal casinos under the oversight of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, and a dog-racing and simulcast facility in Dubuque.
Well-wishers, including many Greene County residents who actively pushed for the Jefferson casino over the last three years, gathered at the Wild Rose entrance as Gov. Terry Branstad and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, talked of the complex as an economic-development catalyst for the region.
Branstad said the casino fit into a full picture of Greene County, a slice of rural Iowa geography on the move.
“There’s a lot of excitement going on here in addition to what you’re doing with the casino,” Branstad said.
He credited Greene County with being the first locality in Iowa to back his Home Base Iowa program, an initiative aimed at recruiting military men and women to the state for jobs and careers.
Grassley said the opening means jobs for rural Iowa.
“With a turnout like this, it’s a big, big thing,” Grassley said. “But everybody expects that from Greene County and Jefferson.”
Former University of Iowa football star Ed Podolak, an iconic sports broadcaster and Atlantic native, said Wild Rose provides Jefferson a separating quality in rural Iowa.
“This is such a great thing to see in rural Iowa,” Podolak said, adding that the facility will be a good location for weddings, reunions and other gatherings.
Kim Rueter, a Greene County agri-businessman who owned the farmland on what is now Wild Rose property, tossed the ceremonial first dice inside the casino. Outside, Rueter recalled taking the concept of a Jefferson casino, a project to fill what he called a “doughnut hole” in the state’s network of gaming houses, to Wild Rose. More than two years ago, Rueter first spoke with Kirke and Timmons.
“It was one crazy idea and a 15-minute meeting with Gary and Tom that brought us here today,” Rueter said.
Greene County Supervisor Guy Richardson, a strong supporter of the casino, noted the 75.1 percent support it received in a county-wide referendum in August 2013, the highest margin any gaming introduction plan has earned in an Iowa county in the state’s history.
Lori Mannel, the Scranton representative for Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation, the nonprofit associated with Wild Rose, said a chorus of voices boosted the project.
“It’s amazing what can get gone when nobody cares who gets the credit,” Mannel said.
Norm Fandel, president of Greene County Development Corporation throughout the casino-siting efforts, now heads up the nonprofit, as its president. Fandel said the casino already is sparking growth opportunities in the county.
“This definitely is the cornerstone of the Greene County puzzle,” he said.
Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission Chairman Jeff Lamberti, who kept casino advocates on pins and needles during a licensing vote last June in Burlington, said the referendum and subsequent community support were deciding factors in the green light for the casino. His vote to support the casino in Jefferson — which was opposed by Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Altoona, just east of Des Moines — was not without controversy and second-guessing, Lamberti, a former state senator, said.
But he’s confident it’s the right call.
“You will see an immediate and substantial effect on this community,” Lamberti said.
Timmons also cited State Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, for going to bat “big time” for the casino.
“Conventional wisdom said this probably wasn’t going to happen,” Baltimore said.
But a united county can accomplish a lot, he added.
“The best thing you can do is look around and say, ‘Thank you,’ to each one of yourselves,” Baltimore said.
Timmons credited the Wild Rose staff with putting on a first-rate weekend for patrons.
“People were operating on empty when it came to Saturday,” he said.
Courtesy of The Daily Times Herald 8/10/15.