Linn County voters have strongly endorsed a plan to build a casino in the middle of Cedar Rapids. With almost all precincts reporting, “yes” leads “no” by 36,076 votes to 22,763 (61 percent to 39 percent). The referendum does not guarantee that the project will move forward. In 2010, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission rejected applications for new casinos in Fort Dodge, Ottumwa and Tama County despite public support. Commissioners determined that those projects would primarily draw business away from Iowa’s existing casinos. On the other hand, Governor Terry Branstad has close ties to key figures supporting the Cedar Rapids project and has appointed several new members of the Racing and Gaming Commission.
Owners of casinos in Riverside and Waterloo bankrolled the “no” campaign in Linn County. Critics slammed them for profiting from Iowa bettors while paying for warnings about the potential social costs of gambling in Cedar Rapids. Dan Kehl, CEO of the Riverside casino, attempted a hail-Mary pass last Friday, promising to build a family-friendly water park in central Cedar Rapids if voters rejected the casino. In my opinion, Kehl’s hypocrisy and desperation do not invalidate the strong arguments against casinos as economic development projects. But the Linn County voters have spoken.