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Will Proposed Warren County Casino Affect Process Here?

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NORWALK, Iowa - Amid Wednesday's announcement in the Warren County town of Norwalk, south of Des Moines, supporters touted the common proclamations of economic development and keeping jobs and dollars local for a proposed casino there.

On May 7, voters in Warren County will become the latest to decide whether or not to approve a casino within their county. Leaders with Wild Rose Entertainment unveiled the plans on Wednesday for a hotel-casino project that would be in Norwalk.

The benefits sound close to what supporters of a proposed Linn County casino mention. About 600 jobs plus the revenue that would come in.

Yet the Linn County vote is only days away, on March 5th throughout the county. Both supporters and opponents have been filling commercial time and filling the microphones at area forums to plead their case and also make certain their supports show up and vote.

The process from a referendum to breaking ground on a casino requires two major steps. First, the referendum must pass and, second, the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission must approve a license.

Gaining approval from the IRGC can also be far from predictable.

In 2005, the commission considered ten applications, passing four of them, including applications that led to the casinos in Riverside and Waterloo. Six were rejected.

In 2010, the commission granted a license in Lyon County but turned down applications from Fort Dodge, Ottumwa and Tama.

If voters in both Linn County and Warren County pass their respective casino votes, this would lead the commission to considering two communities that had rejected casinos within the past decade (Linn County voters rejected a referendum in 2003, Warren County in 2004).

Todd Henderson, spokesperson of the Just Say No group opposed to a Linn County casino, talked on Wednesday in reaction to the Warren County proposal. Henderson pointed to the specifics offered by that group, more than two months from their referendum.

"Warren County isn't until May 7 and in their announcement, they said, 'here is their location', here is who we plan to have operate it, they talked about the family-friendly facilities, the hotel, the bowling alley and the events center," said Henderson, who also pointed out the Warren County casino proposal would pay 4.5% back to local non-profits, more than the state-minimum 3% the proposed Cedar Rapids casino would allocate. By contrast, the Isle of Capri in Waterloo pays 5.75% of gross revenues to area non-profit groups.

Two days ago, Steve Gray, businessman and a lead investor in the Linn County casino, outlined the likely location for a Cedar Rapids facility, pointing to the west side of the Cedar River, close to I-380 and the "S-curve". For a comment on this story, Gray was out of the area and unavailable for comment.

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