CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Eugene Kopecky, a retired Cedar Rapids attorney and one-time Linn County attorney, is taking on the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission in an effort to obtain a clarification on the law as it applies to issuing casino licenses in Iowa.
Kopecky filed a lawsuit this week in Linn County District Court against the commission and the four of five commission members who voted on April 17 to deny a state gaming license to casino investor group Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC.
Kopecky, who has practiced law in Cedar Rapids since 1966, said on Thursday that his lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment. He said he wants the court to instruct the state commission on the state’s gaming law in a way that would require the commission to revisit the Cedar Rapids casino application and grant a state gaming license in Cedar Rapids and Linn County.
Kopecky said the state’s gaming law requires voters in a county to approve gaming before a casino is permitted to operate in a county.
“It is county-driven,” he said.
He said state law doesn’t give the state commission the ability to deny a casino license in one county based on a license in another county, he said.
In its 4-1 vote denying a license for the proposed Cedar Rapids casino, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission said Eastern Iowa has a sufficient number of casinos and that a Cedar Rapids casino would harm existing casinos, especially the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort south of Iowa City.
IRGC Chair Jeff Lamberti said on Thursday the commission will “strongly defend” its position in this suit.
“I think the commission believes we acted fully within our authority under the law,” said Lamberti. “It’s a rather novel approach which would have Iowa law being read that any county-approved referendum would, automatically, get a license. That’s never been how the commission has acted (in the past) and we don’t believe it’s what the statutory authority is.”
Kopecky said the Cedar Rapids casino investor group, led by businessman Steve Gray, is not a part of his lawsuit against the commission. He has not talked to Gray, he said.
Gray did offer a statement on Thursday in an e-mail when asked about the litigation.
“The Cedar Rapids Development Group and our investors are not a party to the lawsuit, nor have we seen it or participated in its development,” Gray wrote. “However, we continue to believe that our project has considerable merit for our area and the state and we are hopeful it will become a reality at some point.”
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, a vocal supporter of the casino project, offered a statement on Thursday via text.
“Many people feel Cedar Rapids wasn’t treated fairly, especially when Greene County got a license,” Corbett wrote. “Mr. Kopecky feels the same. I am supportive of his effort.”
Kopecky hinted that a lawsuit could be coming in a guest opinion in The Gazette on April 26 when he said that the commission’s April decision did not serve Iowans and particularly did not serve Linn County residents who voted to allow casino gaming in the county. Instead, the commission voted to protect existing state-licensed casinos from competition, he said.
Kopecky said the commission was not serving the 216,000 residents of Linn County, Iowa’s second largest county, by requiring them to drive 80 miles to and from a casino rather than making it possible to use a casino close to where they reside.
On Thursday, Kopecky said his lawsuit could take more than two years to make its way through the Iowa court system if a decision in Linn County District Court is appealed.
As for whether this legal action could harm Cedar Rapids in any future casino applications, Lamberti insisted it would not.
“We’re being sued up in Sioux City and the party that’s challenging our actions is certainly entitled to do that and we can’t hold something against them in the future, at least as far as the commission is concerned,” said Lamberti. “I can say, pretty definitively, that the commission - we don’t look at that as having any future impact now. Whether any legislators or others do, that’s entirely up to them.”
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