Non-profits at Center of Debate Over Proposed Linn County Casino

By Nadia Crow, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — We're just about one month away from a Linn County Vote on a proposed Cedar Rapids Casino. Monday, casino supporters released a new list of investors. But, those against the proposal fired back noting the small percentage the casino will give to non-profits.

Much of this came after Rick Smith's Gazette article yesterday that detailed the amount casinos in Iowa donate to charities. Monday, Vote Yes Linn County released a list of new investors. All small business owners with small pieces of what could become a very big casino pie.

"Early on we've started with 20 some investors and now that list has grown," said investor Drew Skogman.

Along with the list of supporters comes a growing number of dissenters. The "Just Say No Casino" group says those investors are the only ones who will gain from the project. Spokesperson Todd Henderson criticizes casino developers for only agreeing to give 3% of gaming revenue to non-profits; the lowest amount possible.

"It shows that the gray investment group is going to give back the absolute bare minimum to Linn County and that's a losing answer to Linn County voters," said Just Say No spokesperson Todd Henderson.

But investor Drew Skogman says that's not the whole picture. He says investors are paying more upfront than other Iowa casinos. Take the Riverside Casino. Skogman says they bought a $10 million gaming license. It'll cost the 'Vote Yes' group $20 million. And Riverside asked for $37 million in TIFF dollars. 'Vote Yes' doesn't plan to ask for any tax breaks. Plus, the casino investors already support area charities.

"Almost all of them are involved in some charitable donations. This casino alone will give off $2.4 mil in charitable gifts," said Skogman.

But Henderson says those dollars still don't add up.

"I don't think that's going to compensate for the other problems that bringing a casino to Linn County is going to bring," said Henderson.

Waterloo's Isle of Capri casino paid the same amount for its gaming license as a Cedar Rapids casino would have to pay. But it's giving 5.75% to charities. Again, that special election is on March 5th.You can vote early or absentee, right now. Both sides of this debate promise more ads and rebuttals as we countdown to Election Day.
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