Cedar Crossing Casino Supporters Unsure on Eve of Vote

By Rick Smith and Chris Earl, Reporters

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa - No one in the Cedar Rapids delegation Wednesday night — on the eve of Thursday morning's crucial meeting of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission — said they were sure they knew if the Cedar Crossing Casino would secure a state gaming license or not.

There was hope, not certainty.

"These guys are playing their cards very close to the vest," Mayor Ron Corbett said. "It's a game-day decision. I'm going to find out at exactly the same time everyone else does."

Corbett said he had not talked to any of the five commissioners on Wednesday, but he has said in recent days that some last-minute lobbying efforts have been going on.

The mayor was in the lobby of the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Council Bluffs before driving across the Missouri River for dinner in Omaha with a few City Council members, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and Steve Gray, the Cedar Rapids businessman who has led the local investor group since before the first public announcement of the casino project in October 2012.

Gray and casino investor Drew Skogman, vice president of Skogman Homes, were in the casino lobby last night, too, nicely positioned so they were able to greet the five commission members as they met for dinner at the Bourbon's BBQ and Steak restaurant.

"It's kind of like the birth of your first child," Gray said. "You're both nervous and excited. We've done everything we could do, everything we should do and we've had remarkable community support for this project. We're down to five people on the commission who will make the best decision they can."

Gray said opponents of the Cedar Rapids project were milling around the casino lobby last night as well.

Groups of Cedar Rapids contractors and labor union members also were on hand to make one last show of support in their push Cedar Rapids casino proposal.

Some thought it would be a split vote among the five commissioners, but a vote in the Cedar Crossing Casino's favor.

Former Iowa lawmaker Rich Running of Cedar Rapids, who asked the commission to support the Cedar Rapids proposal on April 3 during a public hearing in Cedar Rapids, said last night that he put the odds at 51-49 that the commission would approve the Cedar Rapids gaming license.
Corbett, a former state lawmaker, too, heard of Running's comment last night and said such thin margins were part of many a vote over the years in the Iowa Legislature on gambling.

Corbett said he found some optimism in the fact that three of the five commissioners — chairman Jeff Lamberti of Ankeny, Richard Arnold of Russell and Dolores Mertz of Algona — were former state legislators.
"In the legislative environment there is always this give and take in trying to work out a deal," Corbett said. "But I don't know if the Racing and Gaming Commission is like the Legislature."

Corbett said he took comfort, too, in the fact that the commission permitted Cedar Rapids to present a casino proposal in the first place.

"They're not going to ask us to apply and go through all this drama if they're not going to give us fair consideration," he said. "That gives me optimism that we're going to get a fair shake for a license for Iowa's second largest city."

Lamberti served in both the Iowa House and Iowa Senate, and was president of the Senate, said Corbett, a former speaker of the Iowa House.

"He's a smart guy," the mayor said. "Oftentimes leaders look for ways to say 'Yes' versus saying 'No.'"
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