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The Unlikely Coalitions In The Linn County Casino Push

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Even with five weeks left until a county-wide referendum on a Linn County casino, television ads fill the commercial breaks.

Yet the opposing casinos are, for the most part, keeping quiet.

On March 5, voters in Linn County will decide whether to approve a proposed casino project that would, likely, be situated close to the downtown core of Cedar Rapids.

Over these final weeks, two opposing camps are forming, often with groups that rarely agree on other political issues.

"It's interesting in that it almost, exactly, replicates, what happened up here with the same coalitions and the same opposition," said Tim Hurley, who was the Waterloo mayor during the approval and eventual opening of the Isle Casino on the city's southeast edge.

Hurley is now with the Black Hawk County Gaming Association, the license holder for the casino.

For the Linn County casino, Steve Gray is the leader of the local investor group for the casino. Yet the business leaders are also joined by the Hawkeye Area Council AFL-CIO, which is a coalition of 40 different unions and with about 7,000 members in seven Eastern Iowa counties. On Thursday evening, the HAC formally offered its support of the project.

"We will be joining up with the Vote Yes folks in hopes that we can bring right around the 600 jobs that they're telling us they will bring to the area," said executive director Rick Moyle on Friday.

Since the initial announcement of the proposed casino, Gray has insisted the project would bring hundreds of permanent casino and food/beverage positions as well as temporary construction jobs.

Those coming out against a Linn County casino also are banding together but on different grounds. Some faith-based groups oppose gambling in any form and others may oppose it on a belief that it affects those with lower incomes.

To this date, leaders of only one Eastern Iowa casino, the Meskwaki Bingo Casino and Hotel in Tama County, have spoken, on the record, about their opposition to a Linn County casino.

On Monday, Meskwaki Nation Tribal Chairman Frank Black Cloud talked about how a Cedar Rapids casino would cut customer volume and the revenue that would follow it.

Gray has said a Cedar Rapids casino would generate a target of $80 million in revenue each year, with about $18 million of that coming from money that flows to existing casinos now.

Back in Waterloo, Hurley is like the others, watching the eventual vote play out in Linn County. He said neither the Association nor the Isle Casino has an official position on the Linn County casino.

Yet he did point to a study from before the 2007 opening of the Isle Casino that stated between 18% and 20% of the revenues in Waterloo would come from Cedar Rapids-area customers.

"Would that necessarily mean that one-fifth reduction in our revenues? Maybe. That's what concerns us," Hurley said.

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