Anti-Casino Ad Raises Questions on Who is Paying for It

By Rick Smith, The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Just Say No Casino, the group opposed to a Cedar Rapids casino, is out with its first TV ad.

Vote Yes Linn County, the pro-casino campaign, put its first TV ad out last week, an ad that said a new casino would mean more than 600 new jobs for Linn County.

In its ad, Just Say No Casino criticizes "casino salesman" Steve Gray, who is leading a group of casino investors, for not disclosing the entire list of investors, for not disclosing the site for the proposed casino and for not disclosing who will be hired to manage a casino.

Just Say No Casino says a new casino actually will cost existing jobs as restaurants and bars lose business to the casino.

"No answers. No specifics. Vote NO on the Linn County casino," the Just Say No Casino's ad says.

Sam Roecker, a Des Moines campaign consultant for the Just Say No Casino group, on Tuesday declined to disclose who is providing financial backing for the Just Say No Casino group even as the Just Say No Casino group is criticizing casino investor Gray for not disclosing a full list of investors in the casino project. Roecker said his lack of disclosure was different from Gray's.

Roecker, of Link Strategies in Des Moines, noted that state law requires campaigns to file a list of contributors and expenditures five days before the March 5 vote on the gaming question in Linn County. Just Say No Casino will submit information then, he said.

Marcia Rogers, communications director for Vote Yes Linn County, said on Tuesday that owners of existing casinos that may be impacted by a Cedar Rapids casino are funding the Just Say No Casino campaign.

"I'm absolutely certain of it," Rogers said.

Gray, founder of Gray Venture Partners LLC in Cedar Rapids, and Drew Skogman, vice president of Skogman Homes, are the two investors in the casino venture with a greater than 5 percent share of the investment and less than 10 percent of it, Gray has said.

Gray also has said that Dennis Henderson, co-founder and president of HH Ventures in Hiawatha, and Bruce Lehrman, CEO of Involta of Cedar Rapids, also are investors.

Last week, Gray announced that the casino investor group, Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, has hired Ryan Companies US and OPN Architects Inc., both of Cedar Rapids, to help pinpoint a site for a proposed new casino. The work will narrow the site possibilities by the March 5 vote on gaming in Linn County if not identify the site, Gray said last week.

The site, he said, will be within 1,500 feet of Interstate 380 and somewhere between Boyson Road at Hiawatha and Highway 30 on Cedar Rapids' south side.

"There is no hiding a site," Vote Yes' Rogers said. "They're just playing dirty politics."

On Tuesday, too, Just Say No Casino's Roecker noted that the the Linn County Auditor's Office had put the possible cost of administering the March 5 special election at up to $206,000.

Roecker said he wondered if Vote Yes Linn County was paying any of the cost. The answer: No.

Tim Box, Linn County deputy commissioner of elections, said his office can't bill someone for special elections on countywide ballot issues, but his office does get some reimbursement for special elections for a particular city or school district, he added.

Frank King, the Cedar Rapids chairman of Just Say No Casino, said on Tuesday that Gray and other casino proponents should pay for the election.

The estimated cost of the March 5 casino referendum, Linn County's Box said, will cover the cost for election officials at all of the county's 86 precincts, temporary workers to process absentee ballots and election ballots.

The May 2011 special election to extend the local-option sales tax for many the jurisdictions in Linn County cost $151,000 and the March 2012 special election for the same issue cost $160,000, Box reported.

A high voter turnout on March 5, which could add to the estimated election cost, is a good thing because it means people are participating, Box added.
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