New casino may be OK’d in Iowa

BY CHRIS CLARK | JULY 07, 2009 7:20 AM

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Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission officials will decide July 16 whether they will consider applications from five Iowa counties interested in opening new casinos: Lyon, Wapello, Webster, Franklin, and Tama.

The commission will indicate whether, and from where, it would encourage applications, said Jack Keterer, the organization’s administrator. Part of the panel’s consideration will be the business effect new gambling venues may have on existing ones — such as Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, which is around 12 miles south of Iowa City.

The five counties interested in a new casinos are betting their local economies will benefit. A predicted $90 million casino built in Lyon County near Sioux Falls, S.D., could boost the economy in the area, where 40 percent of money made is spent outside the county, said Glenn Anderson, the county’s community development director.

“Most of [the money is] going to Sioux Falls,” Anderson said, and 45 percent of Lyon County workforce is employed outside its boundaries.

Opening a casino would create 400 jobs in the county of around 11,700 people, he said, and it would attract out-of-state employees who would start paying income tax in Iowa. The casino could also catalyze further economic development, bringing new business to a growing area, he said.

“We want to capitalize on that,” he said.

In Franklin County, Karen Mitchell, the county’s executive director of development, said a new casino would have almost no effect on existing businesses.

“We don’t have another entertainment venue quite like it, so there’s little or no competition,” she said. “In fact, we see it as a driver for additional developmental opportunities.”

Building the casino would provide around 300 jobs for people of the community, she said, possibly enough to compensate for roughly the number of county residents who recently lost their jobs after plants shut down and the Winnebago corporate office announced it would close.

The commission will evaluate the proposed projects using a variety of factors, including their effect on existing Iowa casinos.

A casino built in Lyon County would have the least negative effect on competitors in Iowa, according to the study by GVA Marquette Associates, which was hired by the commission.

But despite Anderson and Mitchell’s vision of economic upturns, some business owners have experienced a chilling effect from new casinos in their area.

“[The casino] takes all the business and goes east,” said Mike Meinders, who owns two shops and co-owns another in Riverside.

Meinders, 57, a retired mechanic who worked at the UI Hospitals and Clinics, has lived in Riverside for more than 30 years.

Walking down Main Street, amblers pass more than a dozen empty storefronts.

But three miles away, fountains welcome a winding line of cars to the Riverside casino, which has been an attraction for UI students and others since its 2006 opening.

“We see a lot of people get off the interstate, go to the casino, and get back on the interstate,” Meinders said, pointing to the empty storefronts on the main Riverside strip.

The five counties hope to inch closer to their goal with the commission’s decision next week. In approved counties, developers will then submit their project plans.

In Lyon County, for example, Anderson said Dan Kehl, the CEO of the Riverside casino, would develop the plans.

Riverside general manager Joe Massa said the ideal outcome for him would be a new casino in Lyon County, managed by Kehl.

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