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Checking the Facts on Pro and Con Casino Ads

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa With less than two and a half weeks to go to the casino vote in Linn County, the claims from both the "vote no" and "vote yes" groups are coming fast and furious. But how do those claims made on ads check out?

A look at several recent ads from both groups airing on TV showed one key area of disagreement involves just how many jobs a casino operation in Cedar Rapids would create. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission does track how many people work at various casinos around the state. At the Isle Casino in Waterloo, the most recent number was 556. At the Riverside Casino in Riverside, the number was 715.

Backers of the proposed casino in Cedar Rapids project casino employment of 362. Backers insist it's a conservative figure, but also takes into account the urban casino proposed for Linn County would not have the golf course, hotel or other "resort-type" features that swell employment at some other casinos around the state.

One of the most recent ads aired by the "Just Say No Coalition" questions why casino supporters claim a million visitors a year would come to a facility in Cedar Rapids. One part of that ad goes "when you account for repeat customers, the number isn't a million it could be just 120,000."

Todd Henderson, a spokesperson for the vote no group, said when casino supporters talk about a million visitors a year, they're actually using the casino attendance figures which isn't the same as individual visitors.

"That's how he gets to a million, by counting the same people seven or eight times," Henderson said.

Marcia Rogers, a spokesperson for the Vote Yes Linn County group, said supporters are using that figure because it's the way all casinos in the state tally attendance.

"If as they claim it's 120,000 or a million, what does it really matter. It's people coming in the door spending money," Rogers said.

Comparing the closest casinos to a potential Cedar Rapids site finds yearly attendance there well over the million mark. In the most recent fiscal year, reported to the state racing and gaming commission, the Isle in Waterloo showed 1.47-million people passed through the turnstiles. Riverside reported 1.99-million. Both pro and con forces say trying to estimate the actual number of individual, and not repeat visitors, is only based on estimates from other casinos.

Analyzing a Vote Yes Linn County add found a number of people portrayed as "average" residents talking about job creation. One line went "we're talking about 600 jobs, over 600 new jobs paying jobs."

Backers said that figure includes the 362 employment estimate for the casino itself plus 137 short term construction workers. Casino supporters also believe the gaming activity would create another 134 indirect jobs at other businesses.

Rogers said that estimate on the ad came from a national consulting company that works in the gaming industry.

"They go into every single detail and try to come up with numbers that really give you a complete picture," she said.

Opponent spokesperson Henderson said the vote no group doesn't accept the idea that a Cedar Rapids casino would add jobs to other businesses. They cite comments from one University of Iowa professor who insists a casino would hurt competing restaurants and bars.

"They're the ones making claims it will create jobs for surrounding businesses. And the proof is on them and they don't have independent studies to back up their claims," Henderson said.

Henderson did agree that one question raised in recent opponent ads was answered. Last Monday, casino supporters did disclose where they would like to locate a casino if voters approve.

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