Iowa Set to Ignite Nightlife as Casino Moratorium Ends

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The landscape of gaming and nightlife in Iowa is set for a grand transformation, following the decision made by state senators to lift a moratorium that throttled the issue of new gaming licenses by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC). This cessation of the business inhibition allows fresh ventures, primarily the long-proposed Cedar Crossing casino in Cedar Rapids, a $250 million development that was impeded due to the legal cessation.

The adage, “All good things come to those who wait” rings true for Iowa as the 2024 legislative session adjourned for the year and surprisingly didn’t extend the casino moratorium, inaugurated two years prior. Although House lawmakers had initially favored extending this gaming freeze for another five years right through June 2029, their senate counterparts opted out of this decision.

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In the absence of agreement, the Senate adjourned early Saturday morning without ratifying the extension, and consequently, the casino moratorium will lose effect come July 1, precisely at 12:01 a.m. local time.

State Rep. Sami Scheetz of Cedar Rapids, who had been part of the House minority that opposed the extension, met the news with jubilation. He views this as a crucial victory for Cedar Rapids – the second-largest city in Iowa that has been lobbying for a state gaming concession.

Scheetz, echoing his constituents’ sentiments, noted the priceless chance they now have to enhance their economic landscape. He promised a solid argument for why Cedar Rapids deserves this auspicious opportunity for growth and revitalization.

Cedar Rapids Development Group (CRDG), an assembly of almost 80 local businesspersons, has been harboring plans to develop a casino for over a decade, albeit unsuccessfully due to regulatory concerns about market saturation. Although their dreams were stalled twice by the IRGC in 2014 and 2017, they see a renewed opportunity ahead.

After the enactment of the two-year moratorium, following the approval of a statewide ballot referendum in Nebraska that allowed horse racetracks to transform into casinos, bolstered hopes in Iowa of a possible lift on the ban. This statute was essentially to safeguard Iowa’s fledgling casino industry, boasting 19 licensed entities.

CRDG enjoys strong political backing from Cedar Rapids and Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell. This is evident in a city statute that offers local government support for a CRDG-constructed casino, extending through to early October 2029.

Unfazed by the previous rejections, CRDG has optimistically planned its next leaps. The Cedar Rapids City Council earmarked approximately 25 acres of city-owned land for CRDG last July. The plot, located primly just north of Interstate 380 west of the Cedar River, will soon be purchased by CRDG and its favored gaming partner, Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, by early 2026.

CRDG now anxiously awaits the formal expiration of the moratorium to set in motion its ambitious plan for Cedar Crossing. The blueprint proposes a grand casino featuring 1,000 slot machines, 60 table games, an array of restaurants and bars, and a 1,500-seat concert hall – a $250 million investment aimed at reviving the state’s nightlife.

In a remarkable twist, PGA Tour star and Iowa native Zach Johnson, known recently for his controversial Ryder Cup leadership and a Masters scandal, was part of the 2022 presentation. The two-time major winner aims to launch a sportsbook and taproom, whimsically dubbed “The Clubhouse by Zach Johnson,” at the proposed Cedar Crossing destination. This casino-moratorium saga goes to show that the allure of the roulette wheel spins far beyond the confines of the felted gaming table.