New casinos? Not a sure bet…

The five-member Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission today decided to accept applications for new casino licenses.  The deadline for submitting those applications is October 1, 2009, which means it's likely the only counties to apply are those where voters have already approved gambling referendums (Franklin, Lyon, Tama, Wapello & Webster Counties).

You can listen to the 17 minute "conversation" the five commission members had this morning about new gambling licenses.  (I found it odd no vote was taken by the commission on the issue.  The commission's chairman merely announced it was clear they all agreed it was time to take applications, and he announced the deadline for getting those applications submitted.)  

After the meeting, Commission chairman Greg Seyfer admitted when their review of the applications is over, it's possible they may not grant a single new license.  All the commissioners expressed concerns this morning about the possible impact these proposed casinos would have on existing casinos.  The comments of Commissioner Toni Urban were extensive and very pointed.  She addressed what she saw as the main flaws in each of the five (expected) proposals.

"I think all of us understand that we have presently 17 casinos in the state of Iowa and there are states like Illinois where the legislature has mandated that there wouldn't be more than 10 casinos in the entire state," Urban said to open. 

Here's what Urban had to say about a proposed casino in Ottumwa/Wapello County: "…I know that Ottumwa has waited for a long time for the possibility of applying for a license.  Unfortunately what I see at this point and what our study indicates is that 15 percent of the revenue that Ottumwa would generate would come from Terrible's in Osceola and at present, Terrible's is in bankruptcy so I think that that concerns all of us because none of us would like to see a casino in this state be closed.  The Marquette study shows that a casino and mid-sized hotel complex in Ottumwa would get approximately 70 percent of their revenue from other casinos…For me, that is a tremendous concern."

Here's her main point about Franklin County:  "My concern is that you're not near any large metropolitan area or any city that is going bring you individuals and, again, Franklin County would be drawing from the casinos around them."

Urban's take on Tama County:  "We talk about cannibalization and I think that Waterloo would certainly be affected by Tama. I also believe that the intention ot Tama…would be to take away much of the drawn from Meskwakie…but I think it's my belief that Meskwakie has already lost a lot of business to Watelroo and perhaps Prairie Meadows and that there is not as much business in Tama County as might be believed."

Urban wasn't gung ho on a Webster County/Fort Dodge casino either:  "It is the largest city that might potentially apply for a license…Again, we have a problem because Emmetsburg, which is relatively new, is only about 35 miles north of Fort Dodge and our study shows that 50 percent of the revenues would come from other casinos if Fort Dodge opened."

Finally, here's what Urban had to say about the idea of a casino in Lyon County:  "I think that the impact of a casino in Lyon County might be less on other casinos…but, again, it would effect Argosy (in Sioux City). It would effect Emmetsburg.  I think those are considerations and I think that this commission is going to be very protective of the casinos that they have already opened."

Urban's advice to those who hope to be successful and win a new casino license?

"You're going to have to be very innovative and creative and bring to us idea that will break some of the handicaps that we see," Urban said.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.