Iowa Commission Reviews Impact of Potential Cedar Rapids Casino Resort

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On a gusty Monday afternoon, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) voiced their desire for a comprehensive market examination to assess the potential impacts of a new Cedar Rapids casino resort on the flourishing Iowa commercial gaming industry. This was announced during their meeting that took place within the swanky confines of Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel in Altoona.

The issue on the agenda was an extension of the right to purchase a 25-acre city-owned tract of land in Cedar Rapids, a splotch of greenery huddled to the north of the busy Interstate 380 and ensconced between the bustling Cedar River and avenues F and I. This plot was the proposed site for a glittering new casino resort, an ambitious project backed by an investment consortium eager to gamble on more than just roulette.

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The day unfolded with the IRGC commissioners reaching a unanimous decision to further a review of permitting a casino in Linn County, a county abuzz with rumors of the grandeur of the potential new casino. With anticipation in the air, the IRGC is expected to unveil a critical timeline for this exciting enterprise during a virtual meeting slated for Friday.

In 2022, the Iowa Legislature passed a significant bill, imposing a moratorium on issuing new casino licenses for two years. This bill was marked by the collective clamor of the state’s 19 operating state-licensed casinos who sought to cap competition as neighboring Nebraska saw an influx of new casinos. This year, the aforementioned moratorium was proposed to extend till 2029 by House lawmakers but was remarkably struck down in the Senate.

This victory for the Cedar Rapids Development Group (CRDG), a group brimming with local business enthusiasts, marked a significant tally in their decade-long quest for a casino license. The group has joined hands with a reputed partner, Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E), to make their casino dream – christened Cedar Crossing – come true.

In a telling fin-de-siècle deal with the city, CRDG procured the first option over the land for a roaring $165K last year. Their vision for Cedar Crossing has already seen them coughing up more than $800K on design plans, as disclosed by Jonathan Swain, P2E’s president. If awarded a license, the development group intends to donate a generous 8% of its gross gaming revenue to local and state charities.

However, the debate isn’t restricted to architectural blueprints and profits alone. With Iowa’s casinos stressing the saturation of the gaming market, they fear another casino would only put their operations – and jobs – on the chopping block. CRDG counters these concerns with a claim that Cedar Crossing would only grow the gaming market, providing Iowans with a condensed Las Vegas experience closer to home.

Now, with the casino moratorium lifted, the IRGC has the reins to expand the state’s gaming industry. Previous casino applications in 2014 and 2017 for Cedar Rapids were declined, citing cannibalization fears. Interestingly, the commissioners who voted against these applications are no longer part of this commission.

Recent Iowa casino law provisions mandate the hosting of local referendums empowering the county residents with the final say regarding a casino in their hometown. Linn County, in the past, has held two successful referendums in 2013 and 2021, each resulting in a clear cheer for a casino.

The development of Cedar Crossing is a gamble, but one that could result in a bonanza not just for CRDG and P2E, but also for the people of Cedar Rapids. The dice have been tossed and the wheel is in spin. Now, we wait for the stakes to unfold.