Worth the Gamble? Waterloo Watching Linn Co. Gambling Vote

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

WATERLOO, Iowa – Linn County voters aren't the only ones keeping an eye on what happens with the casino referendum, Waterloo city leaders are watching the decision closely.

"I completely understand why they are doing it," Waterloo Mayor Buck Clark said. "It is attractive; it does bring occasional influx, revenue flow to cities, so I understand that. The casino in Waterloo is very successful. I worry that it would be less successful if the Linn County Referendum goes through and if a casino was granted for that location."

The doors on the Isle Casino opened in June of 2007 in Waterloo. The gambling referendum passed in 2003.

"It was a long process and it was arduous," said Tim Hurley.

Hurley was mayor at the time. He now sits on the board of directors of the Black Hawk County Gaming Association. He said, since that June day, the city has come to life, and the casino played a big role in the development.

"It has helped repair flood damage, it has helped with the Vision Iowa Project," Hurley said.

The Black Hawk County Gaming Association distributes more than $4 million of casino revenue each year. Current Mayor Buck Clark said the money has helped fund a lot of improvements downtown in Waterloo.

"Our state of the art sports center that we are in the process of building," Mayor Clark said. "The casino is really helping us out."

The Isle casino has city leaders feeling they've hit the jackpot, years after the opening. To them, a casino south of the city could create a major losing streak.

"A casino that close [to Waterloo] could take anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of our revenues, simply because the market is probably saturated," Hurley said.

"We know that a large part of our customer base comes from the south, from Linn County and from further, and having another casino that close, very definitely concerns me," Mayor Clark said.

The Black Hawk County Gaming Association said the gaming industry isn't growing; there's simply not enough business to go around.

There are 20 gaming facilities in Iowa. Eighteen are state-licensed and two are on tribal land. Five casinos are within 75 miles of Cedar Rapids, including Riverside, Diamond Jo and Mystique, The Isle, and Meskwaki. Another five are roughly 100 miles from Cedar Rapids, most of them are along the Mississippi River.

"Their best intentions are not to hurt us very much, but they don't have a plan that says it will be neutral or even that we will grow the pie," Hurley said. "I don't think we are going to grow the pie, and I don't think it's going to be neutral, therefore I am concerned. On the same hand, I understand completely."

Waterloo city leaders see the successes in the city and understand why some want a casino in Cedar Rapids. They know they'll just have to wait and see what the voters think on March 5.
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