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Dubuque Boasts Gaming Success on Eve of IRGC Meeting

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DUBUQUE, Iowa - Inside the kitchen at Tony Roma's restaurant. Chefs are hard at work on a snowy Wednesday afternoon.

Manager Steve Geist said, "Gaming has surely helped our mid-week business. There's no doubt. "

The restaurant is connected to the Grand Harbor Hotel and sits right across the street from the Diamond Jo Casino. Out of town gamers like to eat, sleep and spend money at the restaurant and hotel.

"They're not just a gaming establishment," said Dubuque Convention and Visitor's Bureau President Keith Rahe. "They do very well with gaming but they are a total entertainment complex. So there's a lot of activity there. Wonderful restaurants. Bowling. "

Rahe says the casinos help lure large conventions to Dubuque. It's a promise of after-hours entertainment.

"Those guests are definitely going to want to see if they can attend that after they get done with their day. It's just more activity for them to do, " said Rahe.

The Dubuque Racing Association says perhaps its greatest impact is its charitable giving program. Since 1985, the D.R.A. has given $37 million to hundreds on non-profit organizations.

Just last year, the D.R.A. gave the Dubuque Community School District $180,000.

Dubuque Community School District Spokesperson, Mike Cyze said, "It's funding that helps everything from technology, to classroom materials, to safety measures. Across the board it's helped our schools for many years. "

But the casinos impact hasn't been all fun and games for everyone. Gambling Addiction Counselor Debra Prier says the Regional Substance Abuse Services Center treats almost 70 problem gamblers each year.

Prier said, "If you're just driving past a casino, that thought races into your head,I had a bad day at work. My spouse is mad at me. I'm going to go gamble. "

That addiction has left problem gamblers in financial and emotional ruin.

"Gamblers have the highest rate of suicide compared to any other type of mental health issues that we deal with," said Prier.

The Dubuque Racing Association recognizes that dark side of gaming, encouraging problem gamblers to seek help.

The association also boasts a strong public and private partnership for creating what they say is a successful gaming community.

Dubuque Racing Association Executive Committee Member Rick Dickinson said, "Gaming only makes you more of what you are. If your community is a hot mess and you bring gaming into your community, you're just going to be a hot mess with more money. "

But Dubuque's casinos warn communities like Cedar Rapids waited too long to try to copy Dubuque's success, pointing to the new studies that say Iowa's casino market is already saturated.

"Anybody that gets into gaming, whether it's Cedar Rapids or Petty Coat Junction, they're getting in on the wrong end of the curve. The bell curve has passed it's peak," said Dickinson.

A peak that helped Dubuque's economy double down on its casinos.

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