Gov. Branstad Will Stay Out of Cedar Rapids Casino License Decision

By James Lynch, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa - Gov. Terry Branstad made clear Tuesday he will not play a part in deciding whether a proposed casino in Cedar Rapids gets a gaming license.

The governor deflected questions about the proposed Cedar Crossing Casino and reports earlier this week that it would significantly "cannibalize" business from existing casinos, especially the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort.

The governor repeatedly said that he has never involved himself in gaming license decisions "and I intend to do that" in this case, he told reporters.

"This is the responsibility of Racing and Gaming Commission," he said. "They have gone through this before, to analyze and review proposals and make a decision as to whether additional licenses should be issued."

The commission will meet next Thursday at the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona to hear formal presentations from the two firms that conducted the market analyses. One firm projected that the Riverside venue south of Iowa City would lose $25 million or 27 percent of its revenue by 2017, while the second said it would lose $37.3 million or 42 percent of its revenue in 2016.

Asked about protecting the state's bottom line – revenue from the casinos funds a variety of state programs, Branstad again deferred to the Racing and Gaming Commission. His role in the decision-making ends with his vetting of appointees to the commission, Branstad said.

"My responsibility is to appoint good people who are fair and will treat everybody in an equitable way," he said. "That's the way I've always approached it. I have never tried to influence or interfere with their decision-making process and I have confidence they will do what they feel is the appropriate thing."

Branstad will leave a decision about ending dog racing in Iowa up to the commission, too. Bills are moving in the Iowa Legislature that would allow the commission to end dog racing at Dubuque and Council Bluffs.

However, he was frank in describing it as a "dying industry" that requires an "extremely expensive subsidy."

At the same time, Branstad said that if dog racing is ended, the Iowans involved must be protected.

If racing is terminated, he wants it resolved in a way that is "fair to all parties" and "protects the interest of dog breeders and taxpayers."

He also said it doesn't make sense to open a track at Ottumwa, as has been proposed, at a time when the Waterloo track has been closed for years and the existing tracks want to close.
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