CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- Some Cedar Rapids casino supporters are questioning the appearance of “fairness” in actions by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission chairman before last month’s “no” vote.
Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission chairman Jeff Lamberti also chairs a non-profit group involved with the Battleship USS Iowa Preservation Fund. Riverside Casino owner Dan Kehl gave $190,000 either through his casino or a family foundation in 2012 and 2013 to the charity headed up by Lamberti. Two other casinos, Wild Rose and Prairie Meadows, donated lesser amounts.
Mayor Corbett said his problem with the donations began when he learned about them after the 4-1 vote against the casino on April 17th. Lamberti was one of the “no” votes in the majority. The mayor said after the vote he learned that the USS Iowa board members, including Lamberti, hosted a reception on April 7th in Des Moines to talk about fundraising efforts for the ship. Kehl, one of the most vehement opponents of the Cedar Rapids casino, was in attendance.
“When the chair of Racing and Gaming is making vital decisions on casinos and in addition it happens in a time frame when big issues are confronting Cedar Rapids casinos and opponents are giving money to his foundation that raises some red flags in my mind,” Corbett said.
Lamberti was out of the country and unavailable for comment Monday. A USS Iowa board member said no casinos gave donations at the reception in early April just before the Cedar Rapids casino vote.
The mayor hopes someone in state government takes an interest in looking at the appearance of fairness in this issue.
But Brent Oleson, a Linn County Supervisor and county gaming association member, said that could backfire if investors want to try for a license again before the commission later.
“I think this will really hurt our chances and burn a lot of bridges we’ll need to cross to get that application in the future. So what we need to do is take a deep breath,” Oleson said.
Brian Ohorilko, Administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said there is no prohibition that prevents commissioners from serving on other non-profit boards.
A spokesperson for Kehl said the family and casino have a long history of supporting donations to veterans causes including the USS Iowa floating museum. The spokesperson added that Kehl plans another $50,000 donation to the USS Iowa in 2014 to make the ship more accessible for people with disabilities.
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