Just Say No Casino Backed By Existing Iowa Casinos

By Rick Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A spokesman for the Just Say No Casino campaign said at a public forum last night that he still wondered about why the Steve Gray-led local investor group had not released the names of all its investors.

This prompted Gray to shoot back, accusing the Just Say No Casino of an "interesting hypocrisy" for wanting to know the names of the investors in the Cedar Rapids casino project while hiding the financial backers of the anti-casino effort.

Gray said the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, the existing state-licensed casino closest to Cedar Rapids, had some 650 investors, and he said he had no idea who those investors are.

More relevant to Linn County voters, he said, is whether the Riverside casino is "bankrolling" the Just Say No Casino to prevent Cedar Rapids and Linn County from having a casino in their community.

Todd Henderson, a spokesman and member of the Just Say No Casino effort, volunteered that existing casinos, in fact, are providing funding for Just Say No Casino and its advertising campaign.

He said he did not know how much each casino might be contributing, but he noted that the information will be released five days before the March 5 casino vote as required by state law.

Henderson, a public policy consultant, and Cedar Rapids attorney Sara Riley argued against a Linn County casino last night while casino investors Gray, founder of Gray Venture Partners, and Drew Skogman, vice president of Skogman Homes, argued for the casino in an event at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. The event attracted about 50 people and was sponsored by the young professionals group, ImpactCR.

Gray said he and Skogman each has a 7.5-percent investment interest among the casino investors, and Gray said they decided to release the names of 58 investors in recent days, in part, after being prodded by the casino critics. Another 10 percent of the investors, he said, have asked to keep their names private for explainable reasons. Some are businesses that sell items to existing casinos, he said.

Riley, who emphasized that she is not a member of the Just Say No Casino group, said empirical studies not paid for by the casino industry have shown that a casino that comes to a city "hurts" people — those who become addicted; those who have money stolen or embezzled from them by gambling addicts; and businesses that lose revenue because it is being spent and lost in the casino.

In response, Gray said the investors' own economic expert has studied gaming at casinos in Iowa's urban counties and found that sales in those counties have increased after the casino arrived.

He agreed that some gamblers are gambling addicts, but he said Iowa law requires that money be set aside to help them.

Skogman disagreed that a casino only attracts those who spend money there and go home. He noted that a Cedar Rapids casino will draw 1 million people a year, and he said Cedar Rapids' new convention center, new hotel, new riverfront amphitheater and renovated arena and theaters "need people."

"This is our vision for it," Skogman said.

The two sides went back and forth over the casino investors' decision to earmark the state minimum, 3 percent of adjusted gross receipts, for local non-profit groups when other Iowa casinos provide a larger percentage. Gray said the investors' upfront costs and their commitment not to accept public financial help factored in the investors' decision.
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